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Tuesday, March 5

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Bulls Thu Mar 28 2013

Bulls Forget They're Limited In Unforgettable Win

Bulls_200.pngThe Bulls were without a signature win all season long, but that changed last night when they signed the death certificate to the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak with a 104-97 triumph. For a sweet, sweet moment, Bulls fans could finally lift up their heads that have been hanging low and finally have something to hang their hat on this year. While this isn't exactly a Cinderella story, bitter Bulls fans are still waiting for the other shoe to drop with the potential of Derrick Rose announcing he'll sit out the season. The thought of beating the Heat and perhaps turning things around seemed like a fairy tale, but it's nowhere near midnight, and the ball has just begun.

The Bulls jumped to an 11-2 lead to open the game. The starters were focused from tip-off and so was the attention of anyone watching. Nazr Mohammed, again filling in for Joakim Noah, who's still dealing with a foot impediment, had two criminally easy steals and two tough baskets which set the tone that the Heat wouldn't win this game easily -- at least in the first quarter. This had all the makings of a classic 2012-'13 let-down game from the Bulls. The lead at half time was nine and as expected the Heat imposed their way back in the beginning minutes of the third quarter. It was a good thing that four Bulls decided that they weren't going to lose this game.

Kirk Hinrich came to play. On defense he was reminiscent of his old 2007 NBA All-Defensive second team form. Perhaps as a hat tip to a certain departed Chicago Bears middle linebacker, Hinrich wrapped up a rumbling LeBron James and took him to the ground, igniting the home crowd. With less than three minutes to play, Hinrich did his best Lance Briggs imitation by snatching the ball out of Chris Bosh's hands. With James guarding him most of the second half, Hinrich may have finally got into the good graces of Bulls fans by taking it to the hole. And while he wasn't that successful in the paint against James in terms of scoring, he created some much needed offense with kick-outs.

It would appear that Carlos Boozer's 21 points, 17 rebounds would have made him the player of the game for the Bulls, but even with those lofty stats, he was only the third key to the victory. More impressive than the points, Boozer physically manned up to someone bigger and stronger than him. We're used to Boozer taking advantage of inexperienced weaker power-forwards, but whether it was Bosh or a James lowering his shoulder into the chest while he was setting a pick, Boozer showed no signs of intimidation.

Jimmy Butler isn't afraid anymore, and that should be scary to potential playoff opponents. While most will remember Butler this night from his widow-maker Bosh, the takeaway here is that Butler is no longer waiting for his opportunity to start, he's demanding it. MySynergySports offered this tidbit on last years' 30th pick: Butler is in the top 50 on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball in terms of efficiency. Jimmy Butler and Deng are starting to develop chemistry, which could be an x-factor in the playoffs. Though their two-man lineups per 100 possessions stats on basketball-reference don't wow you, they are giving and going very comfortably.

This may have been the first game this year that the oft-overlooked Deng (28 points, seven rebounds, five assist) actually played like a no-doubt-about-it All Star. He didn't back down from James. Deng dribbled his way out of double-teams, hit clutch threes, and showed the urge to have the ball in his hands on both offense and defense. We've all been clamoring for this Deng; whether he shows up like in the post-season or not, at least we know it's possible.

Despite the great victory, it doesn't have much meaning in the big picture. Without Noah, and honestly, probably with him, the lane is wide open for the Heat. So are three-pointers. And let's face it, when Dwayne Wade, Bosh, or James are feeling it, they're wide open when they shoot over double teams. The Heat creating a turnover and scoring quickly in transition seems like one of their set plays that they can execute at a moment's notice. Once one of their big three players gets the ball, the defense needs to rotate and help out, which creates wide open corner threes. Yikes. Can you imagine if the Heat shot better than 35% from downtown last night? On the year they're shooting 39% but missed crucial treys toward the end of the game. The Bulls beat the best team on earth in a regular season game, but it seems improbable that they could do it four times in May, doesn't it?

James lost his cool for the first time since his anger-fueled 2010-11 season. We all heard the stat that James hasn't committed a flagrant foul since 2007, which was telling of his disposition last night when he realized they may have their streak snapped. Only LeBron can beat LeBron. Remember when we would hear Johnny "Red" Kerr or Tom Dore call Gerald Wilkins the "Jordan Stopper"? Well as cute as that was, there's not even a tongue-and-cheek version of a "LeBron Stopper."

On the ESPN post-game show, Bill Simmons said this was a transcendent regular season game that you'll always remember, and though that may be an overstatement to many hoops fans, he couldn't be more right for Bulls fans. The main reason why we won't forget the victory wasn't because the Bulls ended the Heat's streak, but because this game was fun and exciting in a campaign that has been filled with dejection and helplessness. The Bulls played the hardest game you'll ever see a team play in the regular season.

So to every Bulls fan who's stuck with the team in the last year of relentless tribulations: that game's for you. When every sportswriter, pessimist, or tweeter goes out of their way to remind you that last night's game only counts for one in the standings, ignore them -- your team just won the biggest game of their season, and if anyone deserves to be irrationally overjoyed it's you.

And although the value of the win is closer to trivial than meaningful, it was the sheer effort was that inspiring and lasting. It may be just a tiny piece, but the Bulls finally fought back against this hopeless season and won hope.

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