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Taking a look back at 2011 as 2012 begins with Grizzlies
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 1
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We don’t really celebrate the calendar year in the NBA because of the fall-through-spring season. But as we start 2012 with the Bulls much delayed home opener Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies, here’s a look at the top 20 Bulls events of 2011.
1. Derrick Rose wins MVP: Individual awards are not what any season is about. But 2011 was the Bulls year of the Rose. The reality that the Bulls in this era of LeBron/Kobe/Heat/Celtics could have the most significant individual player began to be realized last January with regular “MVP” chants wherever Rose played. Rose went on to be voted the youngest ever and joined only Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek and LeBron James with at least 2,000 points, 600 assists and 300 rebounds in a season. Rose averaged 25 points, seventh most in the league, and ranked 10th overall in assists, the league’s only player in the top 10 in both categories. Rose also became just the seventh player ever along with Jordan, Robertson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to average at least 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds in a season.
2. Bulls go to Eastern Conference finals: They didn’t exactly conclude that favorably with the Miami Heat defeating the Bulls four games to one after the Bulls dominated the opener. But getting there is the first step to elite status as it was with Michael Jordan’s championship Bulls who were three times beaten in the conference finals before breaking through. Plus, that Game 1 Taj Gibson poster dunk on Dwyane Wade was a keeper.
3. Tom Thibodeau wins Coach of the Year: A first year pro coach with questions lingering about an ability to communicate, Thibodeau helps turn the Bulls into a menacing defensive machine reminiscent of the great Bulls teams of the 1990’s, first in both opponents’ two and three point shooting defense. The Bulls’ 62 wins equals the most in league history for a first year coach and breaks Phil Jackson’s franchise record.
4. Rose’s February to remember: Rose solidifies his status as the game’s best point guard with a classic pre-All Star February runup. Rose outplays Deron Williams and Chris Paul in consecutive Bulls road wins and then scores a career high 42 points in the last game before All Star break against the Spurs, then with the league’s best record, and goes to Los Angeles to start the All Star game for the East.
5. The March Crying Game win in Miami: The Bulls end up sweeping the regular season’s three games from the Heat with a last second, dramatic 87-86 victory saved by a Joakim Noah tip of a missed free throw to Luol Deng for the clinching free throws. Heat players are so distraught the coach says they were crying afterward in the locker room.
6. Post All-Star running of the Bulls: The Bulls go a league best 24-4 after the break and win 21 of their last 23 games with one of the losses to Indiana in overtime despite 42 from Rose. That loss to the Pacers turns out to be the only division loss in a 15-1 division season, the best ever record in the six-division format.
7. Championship anniversary night: On March 12, the Bulls honored the 1991 champions with a return of the players from that first franchise title team. The new Bulls then showed off for their mentors and beat the Jazz with a franchise record 18 three pointers and equaling a league record for threes in a half.
8. Hall of Fame: The Bulls dominated the Class of 2011 with five inductees including Dennis Rodman, assistant coach Tex Winter, Artis Gilmore, broadcaster Jim Durham and former media chief Brian McIntyre. It’s been a regular run of Bulls inductees with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen featured the previous two years.
9. The lockout: More a lowlight. But the labor dispute which cancelled summer leagues and the first six weeks of the season and cost 16 games did create a new system in which Rose was able to sign a five-year extension that will keep him with the Bulls against through 2017.
9. Rose wins Christmas Day game: The Bulls were featured in the NBA’s Christmas Day showcase on national TV against the Lakers, and Rose made a floater with seconds remaining to defeat the Lakers by a point before one of the biggest TV audiences ever for a holiday game.
10. Rose saves the Bulls in opening playoff game: Coming into the playoffs as huge favorites, the Bulls stumbled against the Pacers and still trailed by 10 with about three minutes remaining. Rose then scored or assisted on the last 12 points in a 16-1 close to protect the victory. Rose had 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 2 to enable the Bulls to go ahead 2-0 after trailing much of the game.
11. Gar Forman (with silent partner John Paxson) is named executive of the year along with Miami’s Pat Riley: The recognition from the other league general managers recognizes how the Bulls recovered from failing to lure LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to hire the top coach and build depth and a bench that became the model of team play.
12. Rose’s career playoff high 44 points to retake the home court advantage from the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals’ Game 3: Rose scores 17 of the team’s first 29 points and the so called Bench Mob with Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Gibson blows open the game in the second quarter to take control of the series.
13. Rose’s dash: Perhaps my favorite play of the season, Rose, known to everyone in the building, gets the ball on top of the floor, dribbles around as the defense sets and then drives through the entire Pacers defense to score and give the Bulls a 3-0 lead, stealing the hearts from the Pacers with Rose stealing victory in every game.
14. Boozer’s clincher: Carlos Boozer, uncertain after a strong mid part of the season before Joakim Noah’s return from injury, comes up big with 23 points and 10 rebounds in the conference semifinals clincher in Atlanta and sending the Bulls to their destiny with the matchup with Miami and avoiding a seventh game.
15. Deng’s King Day: Luol Deng puts in another all around performance with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists in the Martin Luther King feature in Memphis in a Bulls win. Deng becomes the team’s defensive stopper, coach Thibodeau’s security blanket in leading the team in minutes played and plays all 82 games in clearly establishing himself as the team’s second best player behind Rose.
16. Bulls sign Richard Hamilton: Following a year long search for a shooting guard, the Bulls nab former Pistons All Star Hamilton after a buyout. He moves into the team’s starting lineup, giving the Bulls five starters who should be averaging in double figures, their formula to reach the NBA Finals.
17. Rose Bucks the norm: Rose’s role as the team’s closer continues as he scores or assists on the Bulls last 16 points, including three of the last four baskets after the game was tired, to pull away down the stretch in Milwaukee in late March. Rose’s 30 points and career high 17 assists is one of three such points/assists games in franchise history joining Michael Jordan and Guy Rodgers.
18. Kurt Thomas for 12th man of the year: After playing just eight minutes the first month of the season, Thomas, the league’s second oldest player, steps in for injured Joakim Noah and gets 22 points in a January win over Milwaukee, the oldest player in franchise history to score more than 20 in a game. That concludes a January stretch in which Thomas has 18 rebounds against Indiana and four blocks against Boston. Stacey King labels him forever ”Big Sexy.”
19. Bogans the Invincible: In a March win over Washington, Bogans scores a season best 17 points as the Bulls went 25-2 on the season when Bogans scored at least six points. The oft-maligned shooting guard pushed his ailing body through 82 starts.
20. Derrick Rose’s memorable MVP press conference acceptance speech in which he pays homage to his mother for her sacrifices and for the fortitude and determination she instilled in him to become a better person than basketball player.