The Chicago Bulls won 62 games last season. The most in the NBA. They didn't lose three games in a row all season long.
They also lost in five games in the ECF including four in a row after taking game one. On top of that, series against the Hawks and Pacers proved much more challenging than expected. Many felt the Bulls wouldn't have gotten past the Orlando Magic if the Hawks hadn't upset them.
Tom Thibodeau pushed the Bulls to the edge in the regular season, and the result was the best regular season in the NBA. However, the Bulls were also a team that lacked a second gear in the playoffs, struggled against inferior opponents, and looked crippled against Miami in the fourth quarter.
Joakim Noah joked about Thibs working them to hard in the regular season. He said it was worth it though because of the success they were having. It's the type of joke where everyone says he's kidding, but there's an underlying bit of truth to it as well.
It WAS worth it for the Bulls this year. Without specifically checking, I'd wager no one on the team had a 62+ win season prior to this past year. It did work. They did have success.
However, they also set the bar high. Like Dallas after losing the finals in 2006, nothing short of a championship was going to make the fans (or players) happy. There were no more steps to take before winning a title that could be viewed as improvement anymore.
With Chicago winning the most games in the NBA and bowing out to the Heat in the ECF, they're in a perilously similar situation. Technically, the Bulls could still advance to the finals and lose while still claiming a step forward. It'd be a legit step to beat the Heat as well, but I doubt that scenario would really make anyone happy.
Losing in the Finals may be a step forward, but it's also the most devastating place to lose.
So the Bulls are left with one goal. Win an NBA title. That's true for the rest of Tom Thibodeau's tenure as head coach.
Fans, players, management, coach, we'll all be in agreement over that fact.
Rewind to what Joakim Noah said about it being worth it if they're winning. Will it be worth it if they win 58 games and bow out in the second round?
It's not hard to imagine players turning on a guy like Thibodeau as soon as they see him as someone who's not helping them get better anymore, and there's so little room to get better that it will be a tremendous challenge for Thibs to do so.
It brings me back to two seasons ago when the Celtics started resting everyone in the middle of the season in order to get healthy and energized for the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau fought that decision.
He wanted to play the veteran Celtics into the ground prior to the playoffs to mentally strengthen them and work out their problems. His view wasn't necessarily wrong, but it was in this case. The Celtics needed rest more than victories. They proved it by getting to game seven of the NBA finals and potentially a Kendrick Perkins ACL tear away from winning the whole thing again.
This past season, Thibodeau played the Bulls into the ground in order to secure the league's best record. They were beat up and weary heading into the playoffs.
Would extra rest have helped? Maybe. Maybe not.
It's easy to look back and criticize, but we can't play it out both ways. Quite simply, there may have been nothing the Bulls could have done to get Boozer/Noah completely healthy, and less hard work may have meant an even earlier defeat.
Derrick Rose's fatigue likely had more to do with the lack of any other player on the team that can create their own shot than hard practices and playing too many minutes.
What I do know is that to get continued buy in, the players are going to need to see the fruits of their labor, and at this point, the only fruit left is the NBA Championship.
Filed under: Uncategorized