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By Sam Smith | 4.17.2015 | 1:00 p.m. CT
So third in the Eastern Conference, Derrick Rose still standing for the playoffs, Pau Gasol the team’s iron man and Nikola Mirotic can play. Not bad, not bad at all.
The Bulls’ 2014-15 season was a riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a knee brace, a shoulder sling and a walking boot. The season was unknown with the return of Rose from 2013 knee surgery. And though Rose suffered a February setback with meniscus surgery, he is back to open the playoffs for the first time in three years. Jimmy Butler established himself as a star, though missing 17 games with injuries. Joakim Noah pushed himself through all but the 15 he missed. Taj Gibson missed 20 and the Bulls had 21 different starting lineups. But they come into late April in about as good physical condition as they could hope to expect.
They got a near career year from Gasol, who led the team at 34 years old in minutes played and another resurrection from Aaron Brooks, who along with Mirotic were the only Bulls to play in all 82 games. Mirotic was a stunning revelation with clutch fourth quarter scoring as good as anyone in the NBA the last two months of the season. He was one of six Bulls to average in double figures scoring.
It was the second highest scoring Bulls team in the last 18 seasons, though the poorest defensively since Tom Thibodeau became Bulls coach in 2010. It was a different team, better offensively while not as physical and locked in defensively with so many new players. Free agency last summer was supposed to be Carmelo Anthony; that it was Gasol proved beneficial, though it changed rotations with Defensive Player of the Year Noah forced into more a power forward role and Taj Gibson kept on the bench even with the departure of Carlos Boozer.
So it was impressive to win 50 games for the third time in Thibodeau’s tenure, the team averaging 23 games above .500 the last five years to rank among the best in the NBA.
Though Rose was third in scoring at 17.7, he had the highest per minute played scoring average on the team. Butler had his first season averaging 20 points and Gasol had 54 double-doubles, a career best. It was a new Big Three, which was impressive not even counting Noah and Gibson. Tony Snell emerged to have some moments, though surgery set back lottery pick Doug McDermott. So the Bulls enter the second season not a favorite, but not being dismissed.
But before looking too far ahead, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments and memories of the 2014-15 Bulls season.
Jan. 27, 2015: Bulls become one of two teams along with the Spurs to win in Golden State, 113-111 in overtime as Rose scores 30. Rose’s step back jumper with seven seconds left won the game. Rose skipped happily away after the shot, though it was a wild night for him with 11 turnovers. Jimmy Butler was out ill, but the Bulls trapped Stephen Curry into a late regulation turnover that led to a Kirk Hinrich three before Draymond Green’s tip in sent the exciting game to overtime.
Feb. 12, 2015: Bulls defeat Cavaliers 113-98 with Rose’s 30 points. The Bulls led the Central at the time with MVP chants in the United Center for Rose. Gasol had his 14th straight double-double and Tony Snell played excellent defense on LeBron Jamas as the Bulls won easily.
Dec. 19, 2014: Bulls win 103-97 in Memphis with Jimmy Butler’s 31 points a day after a career high 35, Mirotic recording six threes and 27 points and E’Twaun Moore after not playing all game making two clinching and clutch free throws. It was a Gasol brothers preview of the Spanish stars starting against one another in the All-Star game, a first in NBA history.
Jan. 22, 2015: In another national TV game, the Bulls came up big in blowing out the defending champion Spurs 104-81 led by Rose’s 22 points even with Noah and Mike Dunleavy out. Someone always seemed out all season. The Bulls had lost six of eight and were beaten badly in Cleveland the previous game, after which Rose called out the team and speculation grew about changes. But the Bulls responded with one of their best defensive performances of the season against one of the most efficient offenses, prompting Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to express admiration for Thibodeau and the Bulls players.
March 5, 2015: Russell Westbrook was on his career run and had 43 points. But it was E’Twaun Moore with 2.1 seconds left on a clever pass from Pau Gasol with the winning three with Rose and Butler out with injuries. It was another national TV win for the Bulls as they continued to come up biggest under the harshest glare, an encouraging sign going forward. Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds while Mike Dunleavy also had 21 points.
Jan. 10, 2015: In one of the great individual offensive performances in team history, Gasol had 46 points to go along with 18 rebounds in a 95-87 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Gasol was the first player in the NBA since Michael Jordan in 1989 to have a game with at least that many points and rebounds. Rose and Dunleavy were out while Butler had a career high 10 assists.
March 20, 2015: Nikola Mirotic matched a career high with 29 points in the month to remember in the Bulls 108-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls moved ahead of Toronto into third and would finish there. Mirotic also had 11 rebounds while Noah equaled a career high with 14 assists. It was the conclusion of a three-game stretch in which Mirotic led the Bulls in scoring each game with at least 25 points. It was the second such stretch of three straight leading the team in scoring for Mirotic in March when he also led all NBA players in fourth quarter scoring. Amazing for a rookie.
Nov. 17, 2014: The Bulls surged from behind in the first half to defeat the contending Clippers in Los Angeles for a 105-89 win to go 6-0 on the road, leading the NBA and the Bulls best road start since 1996-97. The Bulls were without Rose and Gasol, but Butler led the team with 22 points as he’d be leading scorer in his breakout season in this stretch of seven of eight games and 15 times in the first two months to lead the team.
Dec. 12, 2014: Derrick Rose has another big game against one of the league’s top point guards with 31 points in the Bulls 115-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. About 10 days later in Washington, Rose would have a big game against All-Star to be John Wall with 25 points in a Bulls victory. And though in a loss, Rose would have another big game against Wall in January with a season high 32 points in Washington’s 105-99 win.
April 9, 2015: The Bulls rallied back from a 19-point halftime deficit to defeat the Miami Heat 89-78 and basically knock out the four-time Finals Heat from the playoff race. Of course, LeBron James wasn’t there, but Dwyane Wade was along with former teammate Luol Deng as Rose’s return from knee surgery enlivened the team to finish with four straight wins to end the season with 50 wins and jumping ahead of Toronto into third in the East behind Cleveland.