It would be completely unfair to say the Bulls flopped.
And it is with some irony that LeBron James knows the feeling.
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So accused by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, James responded with the claim that he does not does go down as though struck by Muhammad Ali -- or lightning, for that matter -- and while he may occasionally sell a call, he's really not much of a flopper.
What he'll find is that the more titles he wins, the more respect he will get and the less he'll have to worry about defending his reputation -- and for all the world he appears headed for his third straight Finals appearance and back-to-back NBA titles.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are mercifully headed south, taking their limited talents to South Beach toward a Game 5 elimination in Miami on Wednesday, after the Heat won Game 4, 88-65, Monday night at the UC.
If that sounds bad, it was actually much worse. It wasn't as close as the score might indicate as the Bulls set franchise playoff lows for points and shooting percentage (25.7).
"We just couldn't ever get going," said Taj Gibson. "We couldn't get shots to fall."
In the third, the Bulls set a team record for fewest playoff points in a quarter (9). They didn't reach 50 on the scoreboard until there was 9:43 left in the game. Their field-goal percentage was 24.1 after three periods. They went 2-for-17 from the arc (11.8 percent) for the game. And Nate Robinson never hit a shot from the field or scored a point, finishing 0-for-12.
"We have to figure something out as a team," Robinson said. "At the end of the day, we have to leave it all out on the floor next game or it's over."
The reality, though Thibodeau will never admit it, is that the Bulls have already left it all out on the floor and there is nothing left to give.
"How you start games, your preparation, is crucial," Thibodeau said. "Obviously, we have to do a much better job of getting ready."
While the Bulls limp to a conclusion, it's hard to remember another Chicago sports team falling so hopelessly short of a title and so completely grabbing the affection of the city.
Losing player after player after player, the Bulls should have never made the playoffs. Losing starter after starter, they should have never taken out the Brooklyn Nets. Losing fringe bench players to the starting lineup, they had no business even winning a game against Miami.
Yet, they did all those things under a coach who truly believes his team could have won the NBA title this season under any circumstances.
Thibodeau is to be congratulated for getting the Bulls this far, and he should be celebrated for his single-minded purpose. But this team is a lot like my car in college: eventually the doors fell off.
He got more out of this team than any coach had a right to think was reasonable, and he should have been Coach of the Year again.
This truly has been a remarkable run.
The shame of it is that after making no excuses all season, and refusing to allow his players to use them, Thibodeau expressed his exasperation and showed his desperation when he played the conspiracy card, blaming NBA officials for letting James get away with flopping.
He opened the door and his players walked through it, playing ugly basketball, taking bad fouls and technicals and finding excuses to explain their behavior and poor play.
No part of it takes away from what the Bulls have done this season, but in the end they simply ran out of gas, and you saw the results Monday night in Game 4, when it appeared for the longest time as though the Bulls might not even score 50.
"We're a pretty good defensive team," said Dwyane Wade. "We were able to take them out of some things they wanted to do, but I'm sure they're a better offensive team than that."
No, they're really not. Not with the players the Bulls have on the floor right now.
But as Gene Hackman offered in "Hoosiers" after finishing a game with four players, "For those of you on the floor at the end, I'm proud of you."
Bulls fans should feel that way about their club after what the last players standing have done the last month -- while understanding how very far away this team is from competing for an NBA title.
Derrick Rose or not.
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