The NBA doesn’t do years.
The NBA does seasons, like the league’ own four seasons, which are the first 10 days of the season when teams are judged success or failures from the offseason, Christmas Day when the public is next asked to watch games, the All-Star weekend and trading deadline for the flesh fest which usual fizzles and that brand new second season, the playoffs.
Still, tradition demands an annual recounting. So from the calendar year 2015, here’s a countdown of the Bulls 15 highlights from 2015:
15. Nikola Mirotic’s march through March
The Bulls rookie, rarely even in the playing rotation before late season injuries, somehow became one of the NBA’s elite closers for a month. He led all NBA players in fourth quarter scoring in March, averaging 20.8 points overall and 7.6 rebounds and led the team in scoring in more than half the games. There was 28 against Charlotte, 25 against Indiana, 29 against the Clippers. LeBron was second in fourth quarter scoring and Russell Westbrook third, putting Mirotic in a sentence with those players which didn’t read, “Nikola Mirotic is no LeBron James or Russell Westbrook.”
14. The Bulls four overtime 147-144 loss to the Detroit Pistons (Dec. 18)
It wasn’t a highlight the team will much want to recall with the ensuing loss in New York and a three-game losing streak. But it was just the second four-overtime game in franchise history and first with three Bulls players scoring at least 30 points in 20 years. Jimmy Butler had a career high 43 points as chances to win were so close for each team at the end of regulation and in each of the overtimes with Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose, the high scorers, all having opportunities.
13. Bulls defeat the Cavaliers 113-98 in the United Center (Feb. 12)
It seemed the Bulls were ready to make a run going into the All-Star break on national TV with Rose building all season and outplaying Kyrie Irving with 30 points and seven assists, Tony Snell harassing LeBron James and Joakim Noah with 10 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Here they come! But Rose was late returning from the break with weather travel issues and then was injured again. Noah after the season would be named winner of the Kennedy award for public service and citizenship.
12. Rose’s meniscus surgery revelation (Feb. 24)
Rose shot one of 13 in a win over the Bucks the third game after the All-Star break and reported no physical problems. He felt soreness the day after and an MRI showed a second meniscus tear. It was the sum of all fears for the Bulls with a third knee surgery for Rose. But this one was not as serious after the previous two resulted in missed seasons. Rose returned April 8 and played the last five regular season games with 22 points and eight assists in his third game back April 11.
11. Perhaps forever known as ‘the Pass?” Pau Gasol’s baseline/back dooresque lob to Jimmy Butler for the tip in basket over Paul George to beat Indiana (Dec. 30)
in the United Center. Gasol may be one of the only big men in the history of the game to be able to make that play because it requires incredible hand/eye coordination as well as a long distance shooting touch to be able to lure your defender outside and away from the basket. It’s the sort of play you might have seen from players like Bill Walton, Arvydas Sabonis or Sam Lacey. Not Chamberlain or Russell as they lacked that shooting touch. Butler finished with 28 points and defended the Pacers’ lob attempt to George to tie the game in the overtime.
10. The Bulls turn out to be the only team in the 2015 regular season to win in Oakland against the champion Warriors. (Jan 27)
Rose with 30 points made a winning jumper with seven seconds left in overtime after a wild regulation finish during which Stephen Curry made a crucial turnover that led to a Kirk Hinrich three late in regulation. Draymond Green sent the game to overtime with his tipin of an Andre Iguodala miss. Joakim Noah had 18 points and 15 rebounds and Pau Gasol had 18 points and 16 rebounds, crushing the Warriors on the boards, their greatest weakness with their small lineups.
9 . E’Twaun Moore’s moment (March 5)
The backup guard from the Northwest Indiana “region” and Purdue stepped in with both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler out against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder and star guard Russell Westbrook March 5. Moore not only had his season high 19 points in the Bulls victory, but he made nine of 10 shots. The last one was the biggest, a three pointer on a touch pass from Pau Gasol with 2.1 seconds left to give the Bulls a 107-105 win after the Thunder could not get up another shot.
8. Bulls All-Stars
Jimmy Butler makes his first All-Star team as a reserve in a vote among the Eastern Conference coaches and Pau Gasol is voted as a starter for the East after four All-Star appearances with Memphis and the Lakers. But the highlight is Pau facing his brother Marc Gasol, who was voted to start for the Western Conference team, the first ever such brother opening tip faceoff. The West won the game, but Pau won the opening tip while Butler played limited minutes with a sore shoulder. Butler won the league’s Most Improved Player award for the season.
7. Pau Gasol in virtually a career year at age 34 sets a career high with 46 points and 18 rebounds in road win in Milwaukee. (Jan. 10)
Gasol led the NBA in double/doubles with a career most 54 and 14 straight at one point. He also had 29 games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, the most in franchise history in almost 30 years. Gasol also won the basketball writers’ Magic Johnson award as the exemplar of player and media and public professional. Gasol also had a tip in winner in Orlando Feb. 8. with 9.4 seconds left as the Bulls rallied from six points behind in the last two minutes to close the 13-day, cross country road trip that started in California with a 3-3 record.
6. Fred Hoiberg is hired with a five-year contract.
It was much rumored since Hoiberg was a former Bulls player when general manager Gar Forman worked under Tim Floyd and Hoiberg also played for Floyd at Iowa State with Forman also on that staff. Hoiberg went on to a successful coaching run at Iowa State after his playing career was cut short by heart problems and he worked in the front office for the Timberwolves. He vowed to bring in a more fast paced, uptempo style for the Bulls to match the way the NBA game has been evolving.
5. The Bulls double overtime win in Milwaukee to give the Bulls a 3-0 lead in the first round playoff series. (April 23)
Jimmy Butler clinched it with a steal and fast break score while Butler had 24 points and Derrick Rose 34. Butler averaged 22.9 in the Bulls 12 playoff games and Rose averaged 20.3 as the duo were looking like the elite Eastern Conference backcourt scoring duo. Rose played 48 minutes in the game and had six points in the second overtime. The Bulls had trailed by 18 points in the first half, and the Bucks went on to win the next two games before the Bulls avoided a seventh game with the Game 6 rout win. Nikola Mirotic played little in the playoffs with knee problems after a big close to the regular season.
4. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is fired May 28 after five years with the team.
The Bulls under Thibodeau were 255-139 and 23-28 in the playoffs. Thibodeau was the NBA’s coach of the year as a rookie with a 62-win season and the Bulls had the league’s best record his first two seasons. But injuries, some blamed on excessive playing time and short rotations, decimated the team and resulted in first round playoff eliminations in two of the last four seasons and just one win after the second round in five years. Relations soured around the team and it became more an inevitability with a five-year run not being uncommon around the NBA, especially for first time head coaches.
3. The Bulls close out the pesky and troublesome Milwaukee Bucks (April 30)
with one of their most dominant playoff wins ever, 120-66 and a 32-point lead by halftime. The Bulls finally got running against the Bucks’ defense with 25 fast break points. The Bucks didn’t have a player in double figures, just the second time in NBA playoff history in the shot clock era. The Bulls were four points from the largest margin playoff win ever. Still, Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected for a foul on Mike Dunleavy and Dunleavy and Michael Carter-Williams skirmished. The Bulls and Bucks were said then to be heading toward a long rivalry.
2. The Bulls go into Cleveland to open the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 99-92 win to take home court advantage (May 4)
Derrick Rose looked back with 25 points and Pau Gasol with his pick and pop jump shot and 21 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and four assists had the Cavaliers flummoxed with matchups. J.R. Smith had been suspended and Kevin Love was injured and the path past Cleveland looked possible.
1. Derrick Rose’s game winning shot in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
(May 8) It was dramatic and sentimental at once, giving the Bulls a 2-1 lead over the favored Cavaliers, who were already missing injured Kevin Love. And it perhaps signaled that Rose was back from his health issues and the Bulls might be able to take that long denied step to a championship over James. It wasn’t exactly classic as the Rose shot banked in, but with the Game 1 win in Cleveland the Bulls now just had to win at home to finally beat a James team. But they would lose Game 4 in similarly dramatic fashion on a James buzzer shot and the Cavs would inevitably go onto the Finals after a Game 6 victory in Chicago. The Bulls would be the only Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game from the Cavs.