Things are off to a stellar start for the Windy City Bulls as the Chicago Bulls' new NBA D-League affiliate cruised to a 123-94 win over the Long Island Nets on Friday night.
Playing its home games at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates this season, Windy City jumped out to a 55-21 first-half lead and never looked back as forward J.J. Avila paced the team with 21 points. The former Colorado State product, who played for the Chicago Bulls during the preaseason, also added nine rebounds and six assists.
Seven Bulls finished in double-figures for the night, including all five starters, as Spencer Dinwiddie and Alec Brown each had 17 points. Dinwiddie also added a team-leading 11 assists while forward Alfonso McKinnie also had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Thomas Walkup played a solid overall floor game as he finished with 13 points, seven assists, six steals and five rebounds. R.J. Hunter and Wesley Saunders each finished with 10. Hunter, who is under NBA contract with the Chicago Bulls, struggled to a 3-for-13 night from the field as he was 2-for-9 from three-point range.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
An aggressive and uptempo Bulls offensive attack saw them shoot 55 percent (51-for-92) from the field for the night while the team's defense held the Nets to 41 percent (34-for-82) shooting.
The Nets, also playing their first ever game in the NBA D-League, were led by Beau Beech with 20 points.
Windy City's home opener also marked the debut of the team's mascot, Gus T. Bull, who the team says is a cousin of Chicago Bulls mascot Benny the Bull. Bulls front office members like Gar Foreman, John Paxon and Michael Reinsdorf were also in attendance at the Sears Centre to catch the team's first game.
The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.
It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.
The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.
James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.
Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.
It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.
That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.
Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.
"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"
Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.
"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"
Watch the video above to see the interaction.
Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.