On the John
Breaking through a wall of fools
Originally published on the readjack.com blog, April 20, 2009
See? That is why you want to play the Celtics (or the Cavaliers) in the playoffs.
Not because your team might go bucket-for-bucket with the defending champs and steal Game 1 on the road. And certainly not because of some absurd reasoning that would have us believe Game 1 was proof of Boston being “the better matchup” for these young Bulls.
No, the reason you want to play the Celts or the Cavs is because it provides a young team with a more accurate reading of their development. Even if we don’t win another game, these playoffs will have been a more valuable experience than anything we might have gained playing Orlando.
When the Bulls dropped the season finale to the lowly Raptors, the critics came chomping. They lambasted our Bulls for losing their shot at the 6th seed and a date with the Magic, the idea being that they had a better chance of defeating Orlando than Boston or Cleveland.
This is the same Cocoa Puffs mindset that argued we would be lucky to have KG miss the entire series, (another preposterous decree). It is a narrow frame of thought that values advancement for advancement’s sake over true development, thus constricting the fan’s ability to best experience sports.
After all, what is the goal for this team? To win a title this year? If it happens, I won’t argue. But they would have to play so far over their heads as to become an entirely different group. Hell, Derrick Rose just dropped one of the all-time great postseason performances by a point guard, and we still only won by two points and needed overtime.
This postseason will most definitely be a national coming out party for our man Pooh, but you’d be delusional to expect him to average a 36-11 over at least 16 games to lead us to a title.
This isn’t the NFL or the NCAA tourney. There are no “magic runs” to an NBA championship. The goal is to build a team that can, without fluke, compete for a title every season. It starts with making the playoffs, and it continues with the benefits that only come from measuring yourself against the best. You don’t achieve that by playing the Magic.
Furthermore, there is no guarantee that we would even beat the Magic. Lose that series, and what do we learn going forward? Rose and co. would still take valuable lessons into 2010, but none as strong as the ones they are bound to learn now.
There is strong precedent for all this. The Bulls were most recently Year One in 2005. They earned the East’s 4 seed and a matchup with the Washington Wizards, also Year One. The Bulls took Games 1 and 2 before losing the next four, with devastating losses in Games 5 and 6. They had experienced the postseason, no doubt about that. But what can you really learn when you lose to the 2005 Wizards?
In 2006, on the other hand, they played Miami. The Bulls fought hard, erasing an 0-2 hole with consecutive wins before folding. Another first round exit, again in six games. Only this time, they possessed the knowledge of how they stacked up to a title contender.
The returns on that experience arrived immediately. Like this season, 2007 ended with the Bulls losing a seed-significant regular season finale. Then, like now, the critics hollered. You could have been the 2 seed! You could have played Washington! Now you have to deal with Miami! Fools! Damn fools!
So what happened? Deng and co. swept the Heat before losing in six to Detroit. The self-confidence they carried into that series came directly from their series the year before, and they probably would not have been the hot pick in ’08 had they reached the 2nd round by beating the Wizards like Cleveland did.
Those Cavs, incidentally, did indeed have the easy road in ’07. They disposed of Washington and the elderly Nets, then caught the lazy Pistons napping and rode LeBron—a talent unmatched by the 2007 Bulls—to the upset.
They were then promptly swept by the Spurs in the Finals.
Of course, getting whipped by San Antonio must have increased the Cavs’ awareness of how far removed they were from being true championship material, just as losing to Detroit the year before or Boston the year after strengthened that awareness. I would bet that Cleveland’s edge in 2009 stems from the lessons learned in those playoff defeats, not from the empty achievement of advancing to the Finals.
Remember: the Bulls of Jordan and Pippen did not become six-time champions by coasting along the easy road. Their development consisted of losses to the East’s champ in five straight postseasons, from a first round sweep to Boston in ’86 to a seven game East Finals against Detroit in 1990. When they finally broke through the wall in ’91, it was because they finally broke through the wall, not because the wall was weaker or less imposing. So it has been for LeBron’s Cavaliers. So it will be for Rose’s Bulls.
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein
A terrific mix of Rose’s best during his rookie year
Take a trip back to Game 5 of the Bulls-Wizards series with Bear Down and Get Some Runs (scroll down to “May 4, 2005”)
Other recent Bulls-related stories from readjack.com:
APRIL 14TH: It rains sunshine and glory in my hometown
MARCH 25TH: Appreciating Captain Kirk
MARCH 18TH: Appreciating Johnny Fishsticks (a story on John Salmons)
MARCH 15TH: Appreciating Derrick Rose
MARCH 10TH: In a flash, he’s gone (Dwyane Wade buries the Bulls)
AUGUST 11TH, 2008: Signing your life away (Chris Duhon leaves for the Knicks)
And, because you deserve it: Jordan’s 63, Game 2 of the Bulls’ 1986 first round series with the eventual champion Boston Celtics