It's no secret that Rip Hamilton must come up big for the Chicago Bulls in the 2012 NBA playoffs; particularly if they want to win an NBA championship. With the Boston Celtics' 78-66 win over the Miami Heat last night, the Chicago Bulls officially clinched the top seed in the East.
For a title run, Chicago will need Rip to play well; and luckily for Bulls fans Hamilton is starting to get his swag back at the right time. The veteran 2-guard is coming off of a solid effort in Chicago’s last outing vs. the Dallas Mavericks in which he had 19 points.
Rose played more like your typical point guard in this contest, as he dished out a team-high eight assists, while scoring 11 points. Luol Deng also had a solid game, scoring a team-high 22 points.
More importantly, in this game the Bulls showed that they could win without Derrick Rose shooting a million shots. In this game Hamilton led the team in attempts, eventually ending the game going 9-for-16 from the field.
This is huge for the playoff push, and it has been well documented how little Hamilton and Derrick Rose have played together. These two have been injury-plagued all season, and combined the duo has missed a ridiculous 63 games, while only playing together 16 times. Not exactly the dynamic duo Bulls fans hoped for when Hamilton was signed in the offseason.
An even more startling fact is that the starting lineup of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, along with Deng, Rose and Hamilton have started together only 14 times all year. While most teams have the luxury to rest their starters in the wake of the NBA playoffs, it will be interesting to see if Tom Thibodeau elects to continue playing his starting five.
In an article from the Chicago Tribune, the reigning MVP, acknowledges that he and Rip are still learning to play together: "Have I learned how to hit him in stride? Well, I'm getting to that. I've been out, shoot, 26 games. But I have been able to watch his tendency and where he wants the ball. The only thing I know is if I deliver the ball to him, it's got to be pretty hard."
Moving forward, their ability to play together will be what ultimately pushes the Bulls over the top. In recent weeks Hamilton has had some of his best games to date, specifically with his 9-of-13 shooting performance, including 4-of-5 three pointers, against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Coming up, Chicago has a matchup with the Indiana Pacers, a team that is also poised to make a playoff push. Everyone will bring their best game in the playoffs, and the Bulls will have to play with intensity every night.
Chicago will be more than up to the task, though, and Hamilton will be a huge reason why. The 34-year-old has been fantastic throughout his career, particularly in the postseason.
In 120 career playoff games, Rip has averaged 20.6 points per game; and in order for the Bulls to beat that team down south (the Miami Heat), Hamilton will need to continue his recent high-level of play.
If the Bulls make it to the Eastern Conference finals, one key matchup to watch will be Dwayne Wade vs. Rip Hamilton. Aside from the newly acquired animosity between the two stemming from the recent cheap shot Wade put on Hamilton, this will be one of the more intriguing matchups in the NBA playoffs.
For one, Wade generally struggles against the Bulls, and it will be fun to see if he can keep up with Rip. Even at 34, the Bulls 2-guard is in impeccable shape, and he will be constantly running off of screens looking for his trademark mid-range jumper. Chasing a player around screens all game is extremely tiring, and Wade has shown that he struggles when tired.
Last season the Bulls simply didn’t have this option offensively, sporting Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer at shooting guard. Kyle Korver was ineffective due to him not being able to stick D-Wade on the defensive end.
Hamilton will be a significant upgrade from last year’s playoff team; and Bulls fans are hoping he will make all the difference in this year’s edition of the Eastern Conference’s best rivalry. You know what you’re going to get out of the other matchups.
If Taj Gibson can contain Bosh better than a year ago, it won't mater if LeBron James has a stellar series.The Heat simply don’t have the bench that Chicago does.
Particularly with the emergence of John Lucas III to go along with CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik and Gibson. Even rookie Jimmy Butler can spell Luol Deng in stretches and guard either Wade or James in certain situations.
The Bulls management has done an outstanding job putting this team together in recent years, and Hamilton is that last piece the Bulls so desperately needed a year ago. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is clearly the best coach in the NBA, and he will do a great job of monitoring Hamilton’s minutes to maintain his energy for the Miami series.
Do the Bulls have a chance to make it all the way?
If you ask Hamilton, they do. In an article from the Chicago Sun Times, he addresses this question directly: “I like our chances, I really do. We’re a very deep team. That’s the thing I really admire and really love. You’ve always got somebody coming in and having your back. When guys come off the bench, there’s not a drop-off.”
One thing is for sure: If the Bulls want to make it to the promised land, Hamilton will be the reason why.