Miami turns Bulls' dream to nightmare
The Bulls learned to crawl this season and even took a few small steps when they became a top seed and won two playoff series.
But learning to fly is another matter.
On Tuesday night in Miami they needed to show they were ready for prime time, and showed instead that they weren't ready to finish in what served as -- for all intents and purposes -- an elimination game.
The Bulls couldn't possibly come home down 3-1 and expect to have a chance, which meant they had to win Game 4 in Miami and arrive back in Chicago tied at 2-2 with home court back in their pockets.
Instead, the Heat took it to them in overtime, the bigger and more athletic Miami team tossing the Bulls around like they would their little brothers, and essentially ended the Bulls' season with a 101-93 victory.
"We did what we wanted to do, which was protect our home court," said LeBron James, who had a game-high 35. "The Bulls are a great team and they make you fight for everything, but we wore them down tonight.
"We kept our home court and we made it a little tougher for them, but they're not out of the series until we win another one."
Sure, it's mathematically possible the Bulls could win three straight, but it seems impossible now after what the Heat has done to them the last few games, sending the Bulls to their first three-game losing streak of the season.
The Bulls played their hearts out Tuesday and did so many good things on a night with a bad ending, but they couldn't overcome Tom Thibodeau's insistence on using the high screen for Derrick Rose.
It led to 19 Bulls turnovers, including 7 from Rose, and it looked too much like the previous couple of games when Rose was swarmed by the Miami defense.
Every time they tried the screen, it brought another Miami defender to Rose and gave him nowhere to pass and no room to roam.
And where was he really going to go with the ball? He can't go to Carlos Boozer, who can't get to the rim, and he can't go to Joakim Noah, who can't dunk even when he bothers to catch the ball.
Even with all that, the Bulls had their chances in regulation but were foiled by a stupid flagrant foul by Boozer on Chris Bosh that wiped out a 3-point Bulls lead in the fourth quarter.
And defensively Boozer was a disaster again, failing to rotate and unable to help.
The last few minutes of regulation summed up all of what has gone wrong the last couple of games.
Up a pair with about two minutes remaining, Boozer waited way too long to slide and James had the easy layup and the weak foul on Boozer.
With about a minute left, James nearly stole the inbounds pass, but Rose got possession and went to the bucket, drawing the foul but making only 1 of 2 from the line.
That tied the game at 85-85, and after the Bulls got stops, Rose had a couple of chances to put the Bulls ahead and one to win it, but instead of beating James to the basket, he settled for step-backs and couldn't knock down the big one.
"He missed, but Derrick is a great player and there isn't anyone I'd rather have taking that shot," Thibodeau said. "I have complete faith in him."
Credit James with great defense on Rose, but you have to wonder about Thibodeau's inability to find a better option for Rose.
Twice all night the Bulls used a step-up pick on the side, with Boozer sliding into the lane off the quick pass from Rose.
It worked both times and yet that play has been absent most of the series, while the high screen and roll and has been nothing short of a disaster and everyone in Chicago seems to know it except for Thibodeau.
Ultimately, that may be the story of this series, with Erik Spoelstra getting help from Pat Riley and making adjustments while the Bulls just ran the same offense and defense over and over again.
And there's the fact that Miami is just a better team, something the Bulls will have to live with for the next couple of years.
For the Bulls, Game 4 was the biggest game of their lives, and they stumbled along the way.
Unfortunately for them, it's just a part of the journey.