The Bulls gave absolutely everything they had last night.
It wasn’t enough.
There are several stats from this game that blow my mind.
LeBron James had a playoff career-best success rate at the free throw line (13-for-13) and Chris Bosh wasn’t far off that mark (10-for-11). The Heat — who ranked 12th in the league in free throw shooting (76.9 percent) during the regular season — hit their last 24 foul shots and finished 32-for-38 (84.2 percent), making their 38-22 advantage in free throw attempts even bigger than it already would have been.
The Bulls outdueled the Heat 44-24 in the paint and scored 26 fast break points…
LeBron (35 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) was the Player of the Game, but his plus-minus score was -1. Dwyane Wade’s was -10. But check out the borderline absurd plus-minus stats of Miami’s reserves: Mike Miller (+36 in 26 minutes), Udonis Haslem (+25 in 34 minutes) and Mario Chalmers (+10 in 21 minutes).
Chicago’s reserves? Borderline absurd in the other direction: Taj Gibson (-21 in 10 minutes), Ronnie Brewer (-12 in 21 minutes), C.J. Watson (-12 in seven minutes), Kyle Korver (0 in 16 minutes) and Omer Asik (0 in two minutes).
The Bench Mob was supposed to be the Bulls’ biggest advantage against the top-heavy, bottom-weak Heat. Unfortunately, they were thoroughly outplayed by their Miami counterparts last night. Particularly Miller, who grabbed 9 big rebounds and scored 9 points in the fourth quarter, drilling two key jumpers and even driving into the jaws of Chicago’s defense for a layup that tied the game at 80-80 with 3:15 left.
With his tattoos and wacky hair, Miller looks like Korver’s bizarro counterpart, and his return to basketball life casts a harsh light on Kyle’s fade into oblivion. As Jeff Fogle of Hoopdata points out: “Tonight’s 2 of 6 brings him to 25 of 77 from the floor over the last 12 games, with eight rebounds in 172 minutes.”
Here’s the thing: I don’t begrudge Korver any shot. That said, I don’t think Chicago’s offensive sets are getting him clean looks at the basket. Too many of his shots are contested and forced.
Like the rest of the team, he’s trying hard, but the results have been disappointing.
Said Joakim Noah: “Sometimes effort isn’t enough. You got to do more than that. We had mental lapses. We can’t turn the ball over against this team at all because they get on the break and they’re really tough to stop in that situation.
“I feel like every game is a little bit like that. Even the games that are eight, 10 points. If you’re watching closely, all these games are so close. They’re played at one or two possessions, so a few of these turnovers, I missed a few easy baskets around the rim. Those are things I’ll think about all night probably.”
The Bulls committed 22 in all. The Heat scored 26 points off of them.
Like when Luol Deng threw the ball away on an inbounds pass with 1:36 left in overtime and the Bulls down only 93-89? Or, on Chicago’s next possession after LeBron missed a 21-footer, when Derrick Rose drove into the paint and simply lost his handle on the ball?
Those particular miscues were part mental lapse and part fatigue. The Bulls were absolutely out of gas at that point. At least by the looks of it. I’ve watched enough basketball and played enough pickup ball to recognize the effects of fatigue. On the road, against the wall, with guys closing in on 50 minutes of PT, facing a killer defense energized by its home crowd and the opportunity to put the series in a submission hold, the Bulls succumbed.
There’s no other way to put it.
About a month ago, I wrote at Basketbawful that talent usually wins out in the NBA playoffs, and that Miami’s Big Three would probably trump Chicago’s Big One. It was a bitter prediction that’s coming true right before my eyes.
People are going to look cross-eyed at Rose for his shooting (8-for-27) and his turnovers (7). I’m sure some fans are contacting a repo man about taking back Derrick’s MVP award. I’m also sure LeBron knows exactly how that feels. The previous two seasons, his Cavaliers compiled the league’s best record while he won back-to-back MVP awards, and then those squads got bounced by more talented teams.
In point of fact, last season, the Celtics wiped both Wade’s Heat and LeBron’s Cavs off the playoff map. Which, we have been led to believe, is what convinced them to join forces in Miami.
Rose missed a free throw with 1:09 left in regulation that, considering neither team scored again until the overtime session, might very well have won the game. Rose went on to miss two contested jumpers before the fourth quarter ended. I’m sure those three misses will haunt him.
What should haunt Rose and the Bulls, however, is why Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau put Rose on an island against LeBron for those final two jumpers. From my living room, I was screaming for the Bulls to run an offensive set — any set — rather than bailing out and using an iso.
But, again, we should have seen that coming. The Bulls have been “cheating” all season, devolving into “give Rose the ball and get out of the way” mode every time the going got tough. Credit Derrick for repeatedly coming through, which was probably a major factor in his winning the MVP. But then you also have to credit the Heat for repeatedly throwing new looks at him in this series. This time, they turned to LeBron down the stretch, something they hadn’t really done yet in this series.
Given time, Rose has figured out pretty much every defense that’s been thrown at him. He didn’t have time to figure this one out. I’m not sure how much input Pat Riley is giving Erik Spoelstra at this point, but Riley did the same thing when he was coaching the Lakers in the 1980s. He was always throwing new defensive wrinkles at Larry Bird, trying to get Bird out of his comfort zone. The Heat have been employing similar tactics against Rose.
On the other end, the Bulls did a damn good job of forcing James (11-for-26) and Wade (5-for-16) to miss shots and, at times, mishandle the ball (they combined for 7 turnovers). But in overtime, talent won out, and Miami’s three stars were overpowering.
Bosh scored the first four points of OT on two free throws and an icy cold jumper from 20 feet. The Bulls got an unlikely three-bomb from Brewer, but Wade responded by drilling a 19-footer right before the shot clock expired. Carlos Boozer muscled his way into a foul at the other end but missed the second freebie. On the other end, LeBron drove in for a layup. The Bulls called time and that led to Deng’s botched inbound pass, then LeBron’s missed jumper, then Derrick’s turnover, then a layup by Wade.
On the other end, Wade blocked a shot attempt by Deng. Lu got it back and Wade fouled him, after which Deng hit both free throws to pull the Bulls to within four points. James hit another mid-range jumper to push the lead back to six points. Rose drove madly the other way and had his layup attempt swatted by Wade. In the ensuing scramble for the ball, the Heat simply outfought the Bulls. Wade then iced things with a couple free throws.
We can talk free throws and fast breaks and turnovers and bench play and whatever else. But in those final few minutes, the talent and will of Miami’s three stars was too much. Just too much.
The Bulls still have pieces on the board. But last night’s loss felt like checkmate.
Said Rose: “It’s not over. We still have games to play. [Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau] talked to us in the locker room about it, where we’re going back to play at home, and we have to stay positive, where they are beatable. But we have to make sure that we play together and the turnovers have to be down, play defense.”
Added Noah: “There is no question we can beat them. There are never any guarantees in this game, but I guarantee we will be fighting. We have beaten this team before.”
Like Noah, I know the Bulls can beat the Heat.
I just don’t know if I believe they can beat them three games in a row.