Memorable moments of 2013
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In the NBA, we don’t much celebrate the calendar year. That’s because the season begins in September or October and extends, well, sometimes into June. There is summer league in July. So there are a few days in August to consider baseball. And for the Bulls, the calendar year 2013 wasn’t one to much remember, anyway. It was the year the Bulls spent waiting for the return of Derrick Rose that didn’t come until fall. And then it didn’t last very long, Rose gone again after seven preseason games and in his 12th game of the season. So perhaps in the memorable moments of 2013 that’s where to begin:
- Nov. 22 in Portland: Rose had some exciting moments, especially in the preseason. Rose was averaging 15.9 points and 4.3 assists and shooting 35.4 percent as the Bulls were on their annual West Coast November trip. But he seemed to be on the cusp of something great. He was dominating Portland’s terrific young guard, Damian Lillard, as the Bulls led by 15 at halftime. Shortly thereafter on an innocent looking cut, it was the unkindest cut of all as the Bulls season suffered a fatal stab wound and Rose had to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his right (other) knee. He is expected to return in full health for the 2014-15 season.
- May 6 in Miami: Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Coming in straight from Brooklyn after the dramatic Game 7 first round win and with the Heat having been off a week, the Bulls pulled off the unlikely upset with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich still out and, of course, without Rose. Nate Robinson continued his amazing run and with injuries and illness as well, this time returning after stitches in a collision with LeBron James. Robinson had 27 points and nine assists on the way to by far his best playoff series of his career, averaging 16.3 points. Jimmy Butler in defending LeBron James in one of Butler’s five 48-minute playoff game in the Bulls’ 10 had 21 points and 14 rebounds and Miami never felt as good to the Bulls for a day.
- Oct. 5 in Indianapolis: He’s back again. Indianapolis was the site of Michael Jordan’s famous “I’m back” from baseball game in 1995. And this was the biggest ever anticipated preseason game with Rose’s return after missing all the previous season with ACL surgery. The Bulls won, their first in their 8-0 preseason. Rose took a hard hit from Roy Hibbert and popped up and put a strong crossover move on George Hill in an impressive 13 points in 20 minutes. It looked like he was back.
- Jan. 18 in Boston: Bulls win 100-99 in overtime. There were any number of games you could pick from January when the Bulls were 12-4, Tom Thibodeau was NBA coach of the month and the Bulls hit a season best mark of 28-17 and you wondered what they could do even without Rose. There were other big ones in January, like the domination of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Luol Deng’s game-winner in overtime in Toronto and Joakim Noah’s flying out of bounds save of the ball back to Marco Belinelli for one of his three game-winners against Detroit. In the Boston game, it seemed over. But the Bulls tied up Paul Pierce on an inbounds play to force a jump ball and then Kirk Hinrich hit a 15-footer to tie it at the buzzer and Belinelli hit the game-winner, a falling down 14-footer in overtime and got an ice bucket shower from teammates afterward in the locker room. With the injured Bulls, there always were plenty of ice buckets.
- Jan. 4 in Miami: A classic way to start the New Year after a narrow win in Orlando with Carlos Boozer’s 31 points. The Bulls dominated the Heat on the boards 48-28 and 19-4 on the offensive glass with Boozer scoring 27 points and he and Noah combining for 24 rebounds, four fewer than the entire Miami team. Noah afterward famously offered, “I don’t know if that small ball is going to work against us.”
- Feb. 28 at the United Center: Joakim Noah had one of the greatest statistical games in franchise and NBA history with 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks in a 93-82 win over Philadelphia. It was in no small part Noah’s answer to 76ers’ fans cheering when he sprained his ankle badly in the previous season’s playoff series. Blocks were not an official statistic until 1973-74, thus eliminating the two greatest shot blockers ever, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. But Noah became the first ever NBA player with at least 20/20 and 10 blocks and shooting 65 percent. Philadelphia coach Doug Collins before the game had predicted Rose might play as a bookend to hurting himself against the 76ers and thus starting a daily countdown of Rose playing sightings that went into the playoffs.
- Nov. 16 at the United Center: Rose is back. So are the Bulls. With Rose having his first 20-point game and making six three-pointers, the Bulls routed the Indiana Pacers 110-94 in a game in which they led by 33 points. The Pacers went to a seventh game in the conference finals with Miami the previous season. So the win seemed to reassure the Bulls they were back in the title chase with their fourth straight win after a slow start and domination of their Central Division rival. Luol Deng had 23 points and shut down Paul George with seven Bulls scoring in double figures.
- March 27 at the United Center: The Bulls stop the Heat’s inevitable march to history in breaking their 27-game winning streak with a 101-97 victory. The Miami players had become much like the 1995-96 Bulls searching out history and the Lakers 33-game all time winning streak. It seemed likely now for Miami. But Luol Deng had 28 points and Carlos Boozer 21 points and 17 rebounds in another physical Bulls/Heat game in which LeBron James’ frustration, apparently over losing, boiled over so badly he complained afterward about the rough play of the Bulls. James singled out hard plays from Hinrich and Taj Gibson. The Bulls won even without injured Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed starting at center. Miami hadn’t lost since Feb. 1.
- April 27 at the United Center: Another triple overtime classic, a 142-134 Bulls win in the Nate Robinson special. It gave the Bulls a 3-1 lead in the series, but, more significantly, how as the Bulls rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit against the favored Nets behind 23 Robinson fourth quarter points and 12 straight in one sequence. The Bulls had played a classic playoff first rounder as well in 2009 against Boston with four overtime games. And this one was every bit as amazing as Robinson finished with 34 points before fouling out in the second overtime, a franchise record for a reserve player. Noah had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Hinrich had 18 points and 14 assists in going 60 minutes. Butler had a game saving block on Gerald Wallace in regulation. And Nazr Mohammed had the eventual winner in triple overtime with a putback. But it was one of the most amazing individual performances in franchise history as Robinson had 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, a league playoff most after the third quarter in the last 15 years.
- May 4 in Brooklyn: The Bulls take Game 7 from the Nets 99-93 even with Deng and Hinrich out with injuries and illness and Rose never having returned. But Joakim Noah, who was questionable to even play in the series with his plantar fasciitis and playing back home where he attended high school, inspired the Bulls with 10 first quarter points and five first quarter offensive rebounds on the way to 24 points and 14 rebounds. Marco Belinelli also had 24 points and he and Robinson combined for five three pointers as the Bulls shook the Nets’ foundation, thus leading to the firing of coach P.J. Carlesimo and major personnel changes. Home teams win about 80 percent of Game 7’s in NBA history. Yet, the Bulls did it without two regulars other than Rose and with Jimmy Butler playing all 48 minutes once again against a healthy and star studded Nets team in one of the great wins in franchise history.