It all began with a one-point difference, and it all ended with a one-point difference.
The Chicago Bulls kicked off the beginning of their season on Christmas Day 2011. Their gift to Bulls fans was an 88-87 away victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. To end their postseason, heartbreak overtook the city of Chicago as the Bulls were sent home losing to the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers 78-79.
It had been a long, grueling season with 66 games in four months due to the NBA lockout, but the Bulls never lost a step. They completed their regular season with a 50-16 record, the league’s best. On the road, Chicago accomplished an impressive 24-9 record.
Often, head coach Tom Thibodeau would say that this Bulls team has “more than enough to win.” It definitely appeared so as the Bulls continually battled through injuries. Starting guards Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton each missed much of the season, Luol Deng had been competing despite a torn ligament in his left wrist, and the wins kept piling up. The Bench Mob stepped up doing what it took to keep the momentum going. The Bulls’ defense and rebounding was surely something to be proud of, for they were the league’s best teams in both areas.
Last year featured the Bulls falling to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. With dominant play like this, there was hope that the Bulls would find themselves back in the Eastern Conference finals, most likely facing the Miami Heat yet again.
As the Bulls entered the 2011-12 playoffs, the gang was all there. Both Rose and Hamilton were finally back, and hope for championship number seven was high.
Game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals presented the Bulls gaining a 103-91 win, yet it was quite heartbreaking as Derrick Rose suffered an ACL injury late in the game. It was in that instant that hope was at its lowest. Opinions differed all around. Some felt it was all over for the Bulls while others never stopped believing, but the bad news didn’t end there.
Game three of the quarterfinals presented another heartbreaking event when center Joakim Noah suffered a severe ankle sprain. Noah attempted to get back on the hardwood and was even able to score on a jump shot, but it did not end well. He had to leave the game, and from then on, he wouldn’t be seen in his Bulls uniform for the remainder of the series.
Unfortunately, the heartbreak continued from there. The Bulls did pull off the win in game five, forcing a game six, but it all ended there.
It was a close game, but as backup center Omer Asik was sent to the free throw line with the game on the line, the poor free throw shooter was unable to connect on either free throws. The journey ended there as Philadelphia advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The effort was there, but it was just never enough.
“I’ve seen this team’s commitment all year,” said Thibodeau. “I’m disappointed in the loss. But I’m not disappointed in our team. We battled all season.”
Thibodeau should be disappointed in the loss, but this team had plenty of heart. It had been a tough season and an even more difficult playoff run, and despite overcoming the constant struggles, they never quit. It just all became too much to handle.