No matter how this night ends in Brooklyn for the Bulls, it will be a perfect representation of the team we have seen all season long. A heart-on-their-sleeves team of warriors who have found ways to win injured and short-handed all year long. Or a team who is playing without their superstar and two injured All-Stars who have struggled to score all year – beating good teams like New York and Miami, while losing to gutter teams like Toronto and Washington. However this night ends, it will be a proper representation of who this Bulls team has been all year long.
If they win Game 7 on the road and advance to face Miami in the next round, it will be the Bulls team who plays hard and wins short-handed, injured, and defeated. It will be led by players who win more games with heart than they do talent. A team who wasn’t built to win this year – with expiring contracts and role players – in order to prepare for the 2013-2014 season with a fully healed Derrick Rose. They will play like a team who has been all but counted out after losing a 3-1 series lead, and rises to the occasion when everyone has written them off. They will outplay and outcoach the Nets, winning with defense and grit in an ugly, scrappy game. They will win, as they have all year, with heart.
If they lose, it’ll be a first round exit two years in a row – and like last year, their key players (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng) are all injured, and in the case of Noah and Deng, run into the ground by a season in which they played through injury for the greater good of the team. They will be the team we saw all year, capable of huge wins like in Game 4, defensive dominance like in Game 2 and 3 – but the difficulty on offense that we saw all season and in this Playoff series. A team with no go-to player, no superstar, and no offensive identity. They over-achieved in the regular season and now it has all finally caught up with them.
As a lifelong Bulls fan and someone who watched every game this season, I cannot say with any certainty which team will show up tonight. Their unpredictability has been what has made them equally exciting and frustrating to watch all season.
Kirk Hinrich is “game-time” but doubtful. Luol Deng is still in the hospital. Derrick Rose is still in street clothes. And yet somehow, there is still hope. And that sliver of hope is what makes this Bulls team special…and frustrating. Well…both.