In retrospect, maybe the Bulls should have spilled some Gatorade on the court during warmups, released a few bats into the arena, took a sledgehammer to the scoreboard controls -- anything to delay the start of Game 4.
Usually, the United Center is electric in situations like this. But television demanded a 6:02 p.m. start Monday, and the building was half-empty when the pregame buildup began.
Contact information ( * required )
A Cubs game probably contributed to a miserable traffic night that no doubt kept plenty of well-meaning fans away from their seats.
The Bulls were as lifeless as their arena at the start of this one. They hit just 1 of their first 12 shots from the field, fell behind 11-2 at the start and never recovered.
Miami won 88-65 to take a 3-1 lead in this second-round series. The Heat can finish it off Wednesday in Florida.
"There's no excuses," Joakim Noah said. "This is the playoffs. We understood the magnitude of the game. We didn't play well. We didn't hit shots. We didn't execute. We're disappointed, but you've got to bounce back, because right now it's do or die."
Actually, the lifeless atmosphere made for better symbolism than explanation. Playing into the second round of the playoffs insanely short-handed, the Bulls finally seemed to hit a wall.
Miami played its usual solid defense, but otherwise its performance was nothing special. By holding the Heat to 88 points, the Bulls should have had a chance to win.
Instead, they set franchise playoff lows for field-goal percentage (.257), total points and points in a quarter with 9 in the third.
"You can't allow frustration of shots you miss take you out of your game," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You can play well and not shoot well."
Surely, most Bulls fans thought the franchise record for bad shooting -- 31.1 percent in the infamous Game 7 at Detroit in 1990 -- would last forever.
The NBA record for worst field-goal percentage in a playoff game is .233, by Golden State against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1973. So at least some team shot worse than the Bulls did Monday.
With so many of the starters staying on the floor for 40-plus minutes per game, fatigue becomes an obvious concern. Marco Belinelli averaged 42.9 minutes in the first three games of the series, while Jimmy Butler was at 42.4, Robinson 38.6 and Noah 37.8.
"I'm not tired at all," said Nate Robinson, who went 0-for-12 from the field and didn't score. "I wouldn't say it's tired."
Taj Gibson had a different view of how much fatigue has depleted the Bulls.
"You kind of sense it before the game, just looking in some players' eyes," Gibson said. "You could see the fatigue coming in with some players, and it's just frustrating.
"Watching the game, you see short jumpers. A lot of frustration led to missed shots. It's tough because you're getting good looks, but if you're not getting the ball up on target, it's tough.
"It kind of takes away from a lot of guys' defense, and that's one thing we can't do. We have to stick to our principles and play strong defense."
The Bulls have risen to the occasion before, winning Game 7 at Brooklyn and Game 1 at Miami while missing Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose. When everyone counts them out, sometimes the Bulls become more dangerous.
That's what they're hoping will happen and the series can return to the United Center for Game 6, which will not be a 6 p.m. start.
"It's the biggest test for us," Robinson said. "I told these guys, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"People say we weren't going to win a game, and we got one. They don't think we can win the series, and we believe that we can. We just have to muster enough energy."
Easier said than done.