DEERFIELD, Ill. - Derrick Rose saw the talent, saw the attitude and saw no reason why this couldn't be a special season for the Bulls.
Well, 62 wins and two playoff series victories later, it's still going strong. The Bulls knocked off the Hawks on Thursday, and now comes their toughest test: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat in the Eastern Conference final, starting Sunday.
"We know that we have something special in front of us," Rose said.
Not since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were wrapping up their second championship three-peat in 1998 have the Bulls advanced this far.
The Bulls won more regular-season games than any other team, locking up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs after a roster overhaul that came on the heels of back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round playoff exits. The moves that sparked the turnaround are well-documented, from the firing of Vinny Del Negro and hiring of coach of the year Tom Thibodeau to the execution of their backup plan after James, Wade and Chris Bosh wound up together in Miami.
The Bulls instead got bruising power forward Carlos Boozer and a cast of role players that gave them one of the league's deepest rotations.
Right from the start, Rose wondered why he couldn't be the MVP. It turned out there was no reason why. Now the question is: Can he and the Bulls get by the Heat?
"They have great players on their team," Rose said. "Great passers. They have great shooters on their team."
The Bulls boast the youngest MVP in Rose, 22. He averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists, making him the only player this season to rank among the top 10 in both categories.
The playoffs haven't been as easy. He struggled at times against the Pacers' double teams in the opening round. His shooting is down from 44.5 percent to 40 percent in the postseason. Even so, he's averaging 28.8 points and 8.2 assists.
"We've been a team all season," Boozer said. "It hasn't been a one-man show. But our one man's pretty good."
And Boozer says the Bulls haven't peaked.
Now would be a good time, with James, Wade and Bosh staring at them. But the Bulls swept their three regular-season games, although James missed one with a sprained ankle.
"It's going to be fun," Rose said. "We're definitely happy to be there. I think Thibs is going to have a great game plan for us."
Rivers, Celtics agree to five-year extension
WALTHAM, Mass. - During his postseason news conference, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge took a call - and he said it was his new coach.
But he was only half-joking: It was Doc Rivers calling, and he had just agreed to a five-year contract extension.
"I think Doc is the best coach in the league. So it's great for us," Ainge said Friday at the team's practice facility. "There's nobody I'd rather have as my coach than Doc."
Rivers' contract was set to expire - he had an option for next season - and he said after the Celtics were eliminated by the Heat on Wednesday night that he was "leaning heavily" toward coming back. So he agreed to a five-year extension worth a reported $35 million.
Rivers has coached the Celtics for the past seven seasons, winning the title in 2008 and reaching the Finals in 2010 before losing to the Lakers.
Meanwhile, center-forward Jermaine O'Neal will have "pretty serious surgery" on broken bones in his left wrist, Ainge said. O'Neal was injured when he took a charge in the Knicks series and landed on his wrist.