It was 2009. I was a chunky sixth grader on the basketball team, which had quickly become my favorite sport over the course of the previous three years. Being from the Chicagoland suburbs, the Chicago Bulls were naturally my favorite team, and I had been able to see them grow before my eyes. 2005 is the first year I can remember avidly following the Bulls, then nicknamed the “Baby Bulls”. A young nucleus of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Tyson Chandler had put Chicago in a good position for the future. That year they would fall in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Wizards in six games; with Gilbert Arenas out there doing whatever in the world Gilbert Arenas wanted to do.
Fast forward four years in time, and the Bulls were very different. Mixed playoff success in the following two years, followed by missing the playoffs in 2007-2008 led to the firing of coach Scott Skiles. The core of the roster was mostly similar, except for the dealing away of Tyson Chandler. Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, and Andres Nocioni were all still there, and as good as ever. Deng had evolved into a great two way player, improving his three point shot while becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA. The Bulls struck gold in the 2008 lottery, coming away with the no. 1 pick even though they had a mere 1.7 percent chance of winning it. I’m sure you all know, but the Bulls took Derrick Rose with that pick. The Bulls offense saw an immediate improvement. Per basketball reference, the Bulls jumped from 97.3 points per game (18th in the league) to 102.2 (good for 8th in the league). The Bulls offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) went from 26th in the league to 15th, per basketball reference. The Bulls would finish the season 41-41, good for a tie for the sixth seed with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers held the tiebreaker over the Bulls due to a better record in conference play, and the Bulls would be pushed to the seventh seed.
All this led to a first round matchup against the previous year’s NBA champs, the Boston Celtics. What would ensue is perhaps one of the greatest NBA playoff series of all time, and one that would set records for most overtime periods in a series with four. It was a matchup of the proven vs the unproven, the vetted vs those who were facing their first test. However, the Bulls would have one important thing going for them. Kevin Garnett had gotten injured towards the end of February and was out for the rest of the season along with the playoffs.