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updated: 6/1/2011 8:25 PM

Heat's Big Three too much for Bulls Great One

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  • Dwyane Wade joined forces with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to help lift the Heat past the Bulls for the Eastern Conference title.

    Dwyane Wade joined forces with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to help lift the Heat past the Bulls for the Eastern Conference title.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


If shame is the brother of guilt, it's not even a distant relative of the Chicago Bulls.

Despite what may be said in the days and weeks to come, after a collapse late in Game 5 and a four-game losing streak to finish the season, the Bulls have nothing to apologize for after arriving a year earlier than anyone could have expected, and giving the city many more thrills than basketball fans have seen here since the end of the Michael Jordan era.

An 18-3 run by Miami put a finish to the Bulls' season, and fittingly it was LeBron James swatting away a Derrick Rose desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer that wrapped up the Heat's 83-80 victory.

James poured in 12 of his game-high 28 in the fourth and Dwyane Wade had 11 of his 21 in the final period as Miami's Big Three combined for 69 points, simply too much for Rose, who scored 25 points on 9 of 29 shooting (31 percent) and missed a key free throw with 25 seconds left that would have tied the game.

Rose also missed a late free throw in Game 4 that ultimately meant overtime instead of victory in regulation.

"It's a tough way to end the season," said Joakim Noah. "I feel for Derrick. He's the reason we're here and he deserves all the praise, not the criticism."

It was James who was so heavily criticized last summer, and while he sought the victory over Boston to exorcise his demons, the series win over the Bulls takes him one step closer to completely vindicating his decision to leave Cleveland and join his friends on South Beach.

"We've never cared what anyone said or any of that because we knew what we were doing," James said after the Heat advanced to the NBA Finals Thursday night. "This is a big step. But we have a bigger goal in mind."

Before the season, the Bulls could not have set a goal of winning the top seed and taking a couple playoff series on the way to the Eastern Conference finals.

It all felt at least a year too soon, and yet they got here only to run into a Miami team finally hitting its stride after a year of inconsistent play.

That was as much the Bulls' bad luck as it was the Heat's good timing.

"I have a feeling we'll be battling each other for some years to come," Wade said. "Derrick Rose is a great player."

But in the end, the Bulls were defeated by a better team.

"Give the Bulls a lot of credit. They had a remarkable year," said Heat president Pat Riley. "They took some big steps this year. They've got a great future."

They might have a present if Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau hadn't been so stubborn in this series, and he was a huge reason why the Bulls lost.

He insisted the Bulls use the high screen-and-roll that was nothing short of a disaster, and he refused to play Kurt Thomas until forced to because of foul trouble Thursday, two baffling decisions that will haunt the Bulls while they watch the Heat take on the Mavs.

"It was a learning experience and we take a lot from it," said Rose, who looked as exhausted after the game as he did during the series. "But it hurts. We fell short of our goal."

Watching Rose get a postgame hug from James and Wade, and seeing the dejection in his eyes, reminded me of standing at Michael Jordan's locker on June 2, 1989, after the Bulls had lost in the conference finals in six games to the Pistons.

Jordan knew how alone he was in that series and that he could not defeat the Pistons on his own.

The next season it was the same result, but in seven games, and not until 1991 in his seventh season did the Bulls finally put enough spare parts around him for the team to get past Detroit and win a title.

Rose is now facing the same long climb up the mountain.

And there's good reason to think that for much of that journey, the Miami Heat will be standing in his way.