The Bulls gave a lifeless performance at a lifeless United Center on Monday and now face their season’s end with Game 5 in Miami.
All that’s left is to remind everyone that reaching the second round of the playoffs while playing a whole season without Derrick Rose was impressive, even before attaching the loss of Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng.
Deng, still suffering from depleted levels of spinal fluid, was not expected to make the trip to Florida. There’s a chance Hinrich tries to give it a shot, since it’s now or next season.
“We’re kind of putting screws and bandages everywhere,” Taj Gibson said after Monday’s game. “It’s frustrating. Every night, every day, we’re trying to push through it and guys fight through it. Hopefully we can push through more and have something left in the tank.”
Here’s one thing to remember about this Bulls team, though. When everyone counts them out, that’s when they often rise to the occasion.
Beating the Heat in a seven-game series might be an impossible task, but the Bulls seem intent on going down with a fight when Game 5 tips off Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena. If Miami experiences a natural letdown with a 3-1 lead heading home, that might help, too.
Gibson offered a pep talk while seated at his locker following the 88-65 loss in Game 5.
“We’ve got character in this locker room,” he said. “We’ve got guys who never want to say die. We’ve been through so many different things all year long. I know guys are going to bring their ‘A’ game.
“We just really believe in each other. We’ve got a team that really cares about one another. Everybody plays for one another. We all encourage each other.
“I wish I could explain how I’m feeling right now, how everybody in this locker room is feeing, because we feel like we always have a great shot. We always have injuries and some tough things going on. Like Thibs said, ‘We’ve got to push through. We’ve got to counter.’”
On Monday, the Bulls promoted one of coach Tom Thibodeau’s catchphrases by passing out signs that read, “Next Man Up.” There are plenty more inspirational lines where that came from.
One phrase heard often in the locker room was, “We can beat anybody or lose to anybody.” The playoffs have been sort of a repeat of the season, when the Bulls went 4-0 against the Knicks and snapped Miami’s 27-game losing streak but also lost home games to draft-lottery leaders such as Charlotte, New Orleans, Cleveland and Phoenix.
The lesson all season was even if a team is capable of impressive wins, it’s tough to sustain success when maximum intensity is required. That was the reality of life without Rose.
At the same time, beating the Heat one more time and bringing the series back to Chicago is a task they might be able to handle.
“We won Game 1 (at Miami). We feel that we’re a capable group,” Joakim Noah said. “We feel like we have to keep fighting, believe we can take one in Miami. It’s not an easy task, but we need to do it as a team, play well and get ready for a big game.”
Limiting the Heat to 88 points should have made Game 4 winnable. But the Bulls shot a franchise playoff-low 25.7 percent from the field.
They’ll need a bounce-back game from Nate Robinson, who went scoreless and missed all 12 of his shots. He wasn’t the only player who couldn’t find the rim. Carlos Boozer shot 3-for-14, Noah was 1-for-6, and Marco Belinelli got into foul trouble and scored 9 points.
The one player who shot better than 40 percent was backup center Nazr Mohammed, who was 1-for-1.
One game from elimination, playing much better is the Bulls’ only hope.
ŸFollow Mike’s Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.