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Injuries and illness had one more opportunity to rear their ugly heads on this Bulls season and didn’t pass up the chance on Wednesday night. Zach LaVine (covid protocols) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocols) had to watch the team’s season come to an end as the Bulls lost Game 5 to the Bucks 116-100. News even dropped that LaVine has been masking the severity of his knee injury and is expected to undergo offseason surgery.
Even if they were fully healthy, it’s unreasonable to think the Bulls could have beaten the Bucks. There’s no shame in losing to the defending champs. It was impressive for the Bulls to compete with the Bucks for two full games, that’s what fans were hoping for out of this series.
The Bulls did that in Games 1 and 2, but then the final three games happened. It hurts to go down without much of a fight, especially at home. But the most disappointing part of the last few weeks has been the fact that no one really stepped up. Short on players, there were plenty of opportunities to go around. Someone on this thin roster needed to come alive and help spur the Bulls on a run or give them a little offense they didn’t know they had. Instead, they shriveled up when the lights turned on.
Young guys all around the league — Brandon Clarke, Jose Alvarado, Jalen Brunson, even Grayson Allen — have had coming-out parties. It can be a launching pad for another leap the following season. Even in losses, you can find confidence in a breakout game. For guys like Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Maxey, Jordan Poole and Brandon Ingram, it’s a statement that they’ve already arrived.
I was hoping this would be that moment for Zach LaVine, but he only had one good quarter of basketball this series. Clearly the knee injury is a big factor here. Patrick Williams put up some numbers in Games 2 and 4, but was largely invisible if not a detriment for the vast majority of games. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu were nowhere to be found. Javonte Green disappeared. Derrick Jones Jr. had a few moments, but not enough to make a real impact.
Don’t let the ending color the whole picture
Obituaries are never fun, and the sad ending doesn’t tell the whole story. The last two months have colored what started out as the best season in recent memory. The Bulls were coming off a four-year stretch during in which they only won only 32 percent of their games. That’s a 260win pace over the course of an 82-game season. They won 46 games this season and secured a first-round series without having to appear in the play-in. Even though it ended on a depressing note, this season was an overall success.
Pre-All Star, the Bulls were the top team in the Eastern Conference, with the league’s fourth-best offense. They were even a top-10 defense through the end of 2021.
DeRozan single-handedly won a handful of games and broke a Wilt Chamberlain record along the way. Prior to their injuries, Caruso and Lonzo Ball were the best defensive backcourt in the league, terrorizing everyone in their way and getting the Bulls out in transition for showtime finishes.
I tweeted out a shorter version of this season’s highlight reel, but here’s the full copy. Most of the highlights come before the two DeRozan buzzer-beaters, and that seems fitting.
The Bulls clearly have plenty of work to do in the offseason to put the team in a better position to succeed. But let’s first remember that this was a huge step in the right direction. This season represented a seismic shift towards relevance and respectability. The Chicago Bulls matter again and that’s an important perspective heading into the offseason.
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