What can the Bulls do to prevent this ugliness from happening again?
You might have to go back to the 1975 conference finals to find a more disappointing moment for the team.
The Bulls played a brilliant defensive game and led Miami 77-65 with 3:14 remaining in Game 5 at the United Center.
A trip back to South Beach for Game 6 seemed to be a sure thing, but the Bulls watched it all slip away like a handful of sand. The Heat knocked down a flurry of long jumpers and finished the game with a completely implausible 18-3 run.
Miami won 83-80 and the final score in the Eastern Conference finals was 4-1. On paper, it appears to be a Miami walkover, but the Bulls not only could, but should have been leading the series 3-2. They let two winnable games drop through the sewer grate through poor execution in the closing minutes.
“We made mistakes and they fed off them,” Luol Deng said. “They’ve got great players over there and they made great plays. We just have to learn from this experience.”
Would a better scoring shooting guard have made a difference? The Bulls could have used someone to spread the floor with some outside shots.
Here are three free agents who fit the scoring shooting guard description: Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford, Orlando’s Jason Richardson and Denver’s J.R. Smith.
What about more consistent performances from Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah? Boozer had a rough night, with just 5 points and 6 rebounds, while hitting 1-of-6 shots from the field. Noah also wasn’t quite himself in this series. He had 5 points and 8 rebounds in Game 5.
Maybe a bad taste in their mouths was exactly what these Bulls needed. This season was such an incredible surprise. No one saw the Bulls winning 62 games and reaching the conference finals for the first time in 13 years is no reason for disappointment.
But this result should provide endless motivation to get back on the practice court with coach Tom Thibodeau this summer, to work through all the defensive drills in training camp and outwork most every opponent during the regular season.
“It hurts,” Noah said. “I love my teammates. I’m going to work really hard this offseason and be better next year for the team.”
The Bulls had plenty of reason to complain about the inconsistency of foul calls on both ends of the floor, but they can blame themselves for the comeback.
After spending all season perfecting their suffocating defense, the Bulls stopped making Miami work for everything it got. They were sloppy with the ball, gave up open looks and paid the price.
“It hurts right now because we definitely had our chances,” Noah said. “It was something special. We had it.”
Ronnie Brewer hit a clutch 3-pointer, then added a free throw on the next possession to make it 77-65.
Wade hit a runner, which wasn’t a big deal in itself.
The comeback really started when Rose made a bad pass, which led to a Wade fast-break bank. Too easy.
Taj Gibson missed a jumper on the other end and the Bulls inexplicably left James open at the 3-point line. Suddenly it was 77-72 with 2:07 left and the Heat had life.
The Bulls called timeout and Rose (25 points) hit a nice spinning pull-up jumper in the lane to stretch the lead to 79-72 with 1:46 left. The crisis was not averted, though.
Wade (21 points) hit probably the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer while Rose touched his elbow. The foul was called and Wade’s 4-point play cut the lead to 3.
Rose took it to the basket and missed the shot. If James or Wade played it the same way, would have a foul have been called? Probably, and that was a recurring, troubling theme in Games 4 and 5. But the Bulls still controlled their destiny.
As James (28 points) headed the other way, Deng was screened and Kurt Thomas wasn’t there to help, so another James 3-pointer tied the score with 1:01 left.
As Rose crossed half-court on the next possession, he was trapped and tried to hit Thomas, who knocked down a pair of jumpers in the fourth quarter. But James jumped to deflect the pass, then drained a 19-footer from the top of the key to put Miami ahead with 29.5 seconds left.
Rose quickly drew a foul against James, but missed the second free throw that would have tied the score. Trailing by 3, the Bulls couldn’t get a good look and Rose’s desperation 3-point shot was blocked by James.
“That team, they’re not going anywhere,” Chris Bosh said of the Bulls. “They’re going to get nothing but better. I’m sure there will be plenty of battles with those guys.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.