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What’s up, Bulls Nation. Thanks to the creative freedom of CHGO, this column is whatever I want it to be. Our boss told us from Day 1, “Be true to who you are.” Well, right now I’m a happy-angry Bulls fan with some thoughts to share with all of you. No numbers or rankings. Just thoughts.
It’s the Pecking Order.
So … if y’all watched our CHGO Bulls Postgame following the blowout loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, you saw me do something I haven’t done as often since Dave’s and my days on Outsiders or my long-winded rants on Locked On Bulls. I Hulked out. Hard.
I fully acknowledge that a big reason why many of you engage with me and started following my Bulls thoughts is because of what I had to say in the dark days of our not-so-distant past. Expressing my rage and frustration about the failings of the team we all love resonated with you, or at the very least entertained you. And I appreciate that more than you’ll ever know. It’s how I’m sitting here writing this column on this great platform right now.
But while I’m capable of playing the “fits of rage fan” role, I truly don’t relish it. It’s not who I am. I’d much rather be cheering for and discussing a good team, because duh. We all want our teams to be winners. That’s why despite certain triggers — especially lately — I’ve tried my hardest to enjoy this season we’re all watching, and encouraged my fellow Bulls fans to do the same. Because it’s so much better than what we just endured.
Then Tuesday happened. And Hulk came out.
It was the tipping point after a very trying month of Bulls basketball. So let’s break down how my Bruce Banner-to-Hulk moment happened. Maybe we can learn something about how to approach our fandom through clear eyes as often as possible while acknowledging that sometimes our eyes will turn green. We just have to trust that after the moment passes, however long, there’s still a level-headed fan inside the monster.
The Bulls spent the past month or so revealing to us their true identity. They’re a good team, not a great team. Constantly losing to the elite NBA competition. [Although as I type this, the Celtics took the third seed from the 76ers, so the Bulls are now 1-13 against the Top 3 in each conference instead of 0-16. Huzzah!] The offense has stagnated with DeMar DeRozan seeing constant double teams and traps and his teammates struggling to hit shots. The defense is slightly better with the returns of Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams, but it’s still getting worked most nights. Bench production is slim to none with Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White both having poorly-timed slumps. Javonte and DJJ have gone cold too. Tristan is a buyout bandaid offering little. Zach LaVine is playing on one and a half knees. Lonzo is somewhere not putting any weight on his knee.
It is what it is.
I can accept the fact that the first half of the season was too good to be true. Of course it was. The Bulls took advantage of a soft schedule, lots of home games and a godlike version of DeMar — especially King In The Fourth DeMar — to jump out to a surprisingly impressive record. But a lot of those wins were close. And most of them came against mediocre or subpar competition. How could we not expect regression with a road-heavy schedule loaded with playoff contenders coming out of the All Star break? Add in the number of bodies they’ve been missing. It was staring us in the face. Some of us [*cough* me, Mark K] tried to warn you.
I can accept all of this. What I cannot accept is a lack of effort. And that’s what angered me during the Bucks game Tuesday. The Bulls second unit came in late in the first quarter and missed some shots. Most were decent looks, several went halfway down and rimmed out. It happens. But the Bulls let their frustration from those misses — and a lack of whistles — affect their defense. They were slow getting back in transition. They stopped communicating on screens and switches. They were late on rotations and closeouts. They just stopped trying.
A team like the defending champion Bucks will sense that initial give and push you the rest of the way over. In a matter of seconds. And that’s exactly what happened. That game went from a 20-20 tie to a 43-24 Bucks lead in six minutes and fifty-six seconds. It was over. Sure, the Bulls trimmed the lead a few times. But the Bucks kept responding with mini-runs, and the Bulls kept caving until the deficit reached thirty.
Then came the moment that had my Bulls sweatshirt and jeans tearing at the seams.
With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulls are trailing 109-84. The game has been decided. After Caruso knocks the ball away from Grayson Allen, Grayson regains possession and Caruso is now trailing behind him. He proceeds to dribble right down the paint completely untouched for a layup. After Nikola Vucevic hits a shot at the other end, the Bucks free up Grayson off a screen. He dribbles from the right elbow down and across the paint, laying in another bucket as several Bulls players stand in the paint and watch.
[*aaand Hulk Matt*]
Look, I get that at this point in a blowout, nobody wants to fight anymore. They just want to run out the clock. Billy still had some of his starters in at this point, and they were probably just waiting for the timeout so the scrubs could take their place.
But after taking a beatdown like that, somebody — anybody — needed to show some damn pride and foul Grayson. Hard. I’m not saying I wanted a Bulls player to intentionally try to hurt him. [Oh, who am I kidding. Grayson is an unremorseful dirty player, has been forever, and he would certainly deserve it.] Just give me a damn hard foul. A ’90s foul. Something to say to Allen and his teammates, “We may have lost tonight, but we see you again in April and we won’t just roll over and die. And we still remember that bush-league stuff you pulled. It’s not okay.”
But no. None of that. Nothing. So I was left feeling like Jesse Pinkman after Walter White’s latest twisted, sadistic plot leaves him utterly helpless and enraged.
[Shoutout to our producer Joey for dropping this gem into our Postgame show while I was losing my mind with rage. He gets it. Joey understands my Grayson Rage.]
It wasn’t the Grayson layups by themselves that lit my Hulk fuse. As I laid out here, there were little annoyances and frustrations about this recent stretch that started bubbling closer to the surface. Each time I felt Hulk lurking, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself of all the good things about this season that still very much exist. And I warded him off. But everyone has a breaking point. That was mine.
As we reach the home stretch of the regular season and hold our collective breath to see how the standings shake out, I know two things with absolute certainty. One: I am fully prepared to watch the Bulls bow out in the first round of the playoffs knowing that they weren’t real contenders, but rather a fun bunch of opportunists for a large stretch of this season. And two: if they do go down in the first round, they better finally show us some fight while doing it.
After everything Bulls fans have been through, I can keep my Hulk at bay and embrace the present as a brighter world than the past one. I can even handle the disappointment of an anticlimactic result to the best season we’ve seen in almost a decade, knowing there’s always another season around the corner for them to try again. Try again.
I can accept failure. I cannot accept not trying.
So try, Bulls. Please. Give us fans something to be proud of, however this season ends. I’d much rather spend my summer as Bruce than Hulk. I’d quickly run out of friends and things to smash.
See Red. [Not Green.] Be Good.
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