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Article updated: 5/15/2013 10:33 PM

Bulls gave cheap but glorious thrills this season

By Mike Imrem

Chicago sports fans love cheap thrills, and the Bulls provided plenty of them this season.

That included Jimmy Butler's final wayward shot in the final seconds of the Bulls' 94-91 elimination loss at Miami on Wednesday night in their NBA East semifinal playoff series.

It says here that the definition of a cheap thrill is any endearing performance that doesn't conclude in a championship.

In baseball there were the 1969 Cubs and 1977 White Sox. In basketball, the Bulls of the early 1970s still occupy a place in the hearts of longtime fans.

Heck, this year the Sox are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1983 division winners that blew the opportunity to qualify for the World Series. Maybe in three decades the Bulls will honor this year's team.

"We knew right from the beginning of the series we were going to have to earn everything we got," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "(The Bulls) made it extremely tough."

Sometimes the more flawed a Chicago playoff team is, the more the players are beloved. Boy, were these Bulls ever flawed. Once Derrick Rose decided he wasn't going to play this season, this was going to be an undermanned team.

Then against the defending champion Heat, the Bulls had to play without the ill Luol Deng and the injured Kirk Hinrich.

Consequently the Bulls had to settle for whatever they could accomplish -- call them cheap thrills -- short of a championship that it was clear they couldn't win.

At least a half-dozen of the Bulls' 45 regular-season victories were a bonus. So was the improbable Game 7 victory at Brooklyn in first-round playoff victory. There was Nate Robinson's electric performance in a three-overtime victory over the Nets. There was an upset victory in Game 1 over the Heat.

Finally, there was this crazy elimination game when Miami took a 22-4 lead before the Bulls characteristically fought back to lead right through midway into the fourth quarter.

In the end, they were nothing more than cheap thrills but glorious ones just the same.

"It was sort of the story of our season," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of his team's resilience. "Our team fought all year long."

The immediate question after Jimmy Butler's 3-point shot missed tying Miami was what the prospects are that the Bulls can catch the Heat next season and not have to settle for cheap thrills.

First of all, Rose will have to return as the MVP-caliber player he was before tearing an ACL in last year's playoffs. Then the Bulls will have to team him with another scorer who can create his own shot. Then they'll have to rebuild the bench for the third straight season. Then they'll have to have luckier bodies than this season.

"Health," Thibodeau said when asked what separates the Bulls from the Heat.

It's more than that, of course. The Heat has LeBron James, the one weapon that no other team in the league can match. But nothing is guaranteed, not even in Miami.

Even the indestructible James can blow out a knee. Dwyane Wade always looks like he's on his last leg. The Bulls might improve more than anybody can imagine.

"We're going to be able to compete with these guys," Bulls center Joakim Noah said optimistically. "One day we'll get our shot."

Presumably he means a shot at a championship rather than a shot at more cheap thrills.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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