The Chicago Bulls died a hundred deaths this season, but they have somehow made the playoffs anyway. Against the lifeless Nets, who inexplicably rested their stars in the final game, Chicago won in a blowout and locked up the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, setting the stage for a first-round showdown against the Boston Celtics.
This wasn’t a good season for Chicago. The Bulls came into the season with clear expectations to be a playoff team, even if we all knew their pieces fit awkwardly. They began hot, starting 9-5, only to tumble five games under .500 late in the season (34-39).
Winning seven of their final nine games saved them, even after (or because?) Dwyane Wade missed 11 games post-elbow surgery. Jimmy Butler — who, depending on who you ask, was almost traded at the deadline — had an All-NBA worthy season, carrying and even dragging the Bulls with him at times. And Rajon Rondo, who went from starting to not playing to coming off the bench to starting again, has found himself in a slightly steadier role at the end of the season.
The team survived this all, and even an Instagram-fueled beef between Rondo and the two other veterans, Butler and Wade. After the latter two publicly called out the team after a loss, Rondo criticized them for going to the media instead of addressing the team itself. Apparently, relations were restored, at least working ones.
Does this playoff push really matter for Chicago?
It matters for the Bulls, because every player wants to win and their inspired push late in the season proved that. Some Bulls fans may be apathetic to the team at this point, and they certainly won’t be expected to win against the Boston Celtics, but maybe this late-season push shows something.
Chicago also wouldn’t have got here without players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio, and even Jerian Grant emerging as decent, somewhat steady contributors. Even Nikola Mirotic had his now-annual post-All-Star surge, scoring more than 14 points on 47 percent shooting after managing only nine points on 38 percent shooting during the opening two-thirds of the year.
Those are all good things. The playoff berth also may save head coach Fred Hoiberg’s job this summer, at least for the time being. The Bulls front office still hasn’t really supported his preferred pace-and-space offense, giving him a roster that finished bottom-five in three-point makes, attempts and percentage. Still, Chicago improved in those areas down the stretch run, and maybe that’s something that will change more.
For now, the Bulls are preparing for a first-round battle and thankful that doesn’t come against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston is heavily favored, but the Celtics are not unbeatable, and have an offense heavily dictated around a single star. Maybe the Bulls have a better chance than we’re giving them.