CHICAGO – There was a time when the team that is now trying to be “cool” still was – and you don’t have to go back to 1998.
With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah remaining from the core of their strong teams earlier in the decade, the addition of Pau Gasol, and the continued emergence of Jimmy Butler as a force, the Bulls had a strong group for 2014-2015.
They finished 50-32 under head coach Tom Thibodeau, which was good enough for third in what was a bit of a wide-open Eastern Conference. The Atlanta Hawks (60 wins) were the top seed while the Cavaliers got the second as they re-emerged following the reacquisition of LeBron James.
Despite his incredible abilities and his four consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals, Cleveland wasn’t invincible. This left this Bulls team with a window to finally make a run for the championship, and they’d get their chance to face “King James” in the second round.
In the process, it would set up “The Last Stand” for the Rose-era Bulls on May 8, 2015 – five years ago on Friday.
After beating the Bucks in the first round of playoffs in six games, the Bulls did what they had to do to start the Cleveland series: Split the first two games. Rose’s 25 points helped them do so in Game 1 as the Bulls won 99-92, and despite a Game 2 loss, the team was poised to race out to a lead when the series shifted back to the United Center.
In Game 3, the Bulls and the Cavaliers engaged for a memorable 48 minutes of basketball, with the lead being traded back and forth most of the contest. Rose was enjoying one of his best nights of the playoffs so far, and had 27 points going into the final minute of the fourth quarter.
JR Smith would tie it with a three-pointer with 11 seconds to go, and would set up one of the most memorable moments in the post-Jordan era.
Off an inbounds pass from Mike Dunleavy, Rose dribbled around a screen from Taj Gibson, then fired the shot over Tristan Thompson and banked in the game-winning three-pointer.
Rose started expressionless into the crowd as his teammates lifted him up following the victory as the United Center roarer to life. The Bulls had a 2-1 series lead, with Derrick leading the way with 30 points, and had fans wondering if maybe hed finally be able to lead the team to the promised land.
Unfortunately, this would be the zenith of this particular playoff run, and was the last great moment of an era of the franchise.
In Game 4 that Sunday, James returned the favor with this corner game-winner with no time remaining to give Cleveland an 86-84 win. The Cavaliers would win in Game 5 then blowout the Bulls in Game 6 in Chicago 94-73 to end the season.
As Cleveland went to the NBA Finals, a Bulls era slowly began to end.
Thibodeau was fired in June and replaced by Fred Hoiberg, and the team fell out of the playoffs in 2015-2016 with a 42-40 record despite a majority of the roster remaining intact. Rose was traded that offseason while Gasol and Noah, who missed a lot of the previous season, signed elsewhere. Gibson was traded at the deadline in February of 2017 along with Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
Butler was gone that summer on a draft night trade with the Timberwolves as the team officially rebuilt, but it didn’t work enough to save John Paxson and Gar Forman, who now both are out.
Many thought that what happened on May 8, 2015 would be the start of something special for a team down on its luck. Instead, it provided one last moment for a hometown star and a star-crossed squad before their time was about to run out.