Welcome to the playoffs. Because this game was essentially a playoff game.
The Heat needed it badly to save face for their recent mediocre play and to have any chance of overtaking the Bulls for the best record in the East.
The Bulls needed it badly to maintain their hold on said best record in the East and the accompanying home court advantage throughout at least the conference playoffs.
Not to make excuses, but the Bulls were a little handicapped in this one. On the road, without Derrick Rose, playing their fourth game in five nights, versus one of the league’s best teams with the soon-to-be-named MVP LeBron James having a game (27 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists)…
…but the Bulls hung tough. Almost to the bitter end.
Oh, man, that fourth quarter was brutal. The Bulls simply could not get a good look at the basket. I’m not sure they managed to produce a single uncontested shot in the final 12 minutes, during which they got outscored 17-11. Miami’s defense basically put up a wall, and Chicago’s offense didn’t have anyone or any way to penetrate it.
That’s when and where they miss Rose the most.
Speaking of which, the Bulls were outscored 36-20 in the paint. According to Hoopdata, they attempted only 13 of their 70 shot attempts at the rim. By comparison, 26 of Miami’s 76 shot attempts were taken at the rim. In the fourth quarter, the Bulls attempted a total of four shots in the paint. They missed three of them.
Credit Miami’s defense, which was intense, but the Bulls without Rose do not have the players necessary to create shots out of nothing. They rely on ball movement and cuts without the ball. That works against lesser teams — most of the time — but not always against an elite defense squad like the Heat. And in the last seven or eight minutes of that final quarter, the Bulls would have needed a miracle to get a clean look at the hoop.
The Bulls ended up shooting 35.7 percent from the field. They missed 14 of their 16 three-point attempts. And, maybe worst of all, went only 20-for-28 from the free throw line. Chicago currently ranks 27th in the league in free throw percentage at 72 percent. That’s one of those “this will come back to haunt them” stats that I wish would be addressed.
But I digress.
Said Joakim Noah: “We didn’t play well offensively. Seventy points isn’t going to get it done. They wanted it more than us tonight, but we’ll be back. We wanted it bad, but they wanted it more. That can’t happen.”
Added Rip Hamilton: “I think we got to get better. I think we got to get better. I think that’s what the playoffs is going to be about. I know what you’re going to do, we know what you’re going to do. So it’s one of them things where we’ve got to get better in that. When somebody pushes their foot on the gas and push us back, we got to push even harder so we definitely got to be better at that.”
In possibly related news, Rip finished with 6 points on 1-for-6 shooting. C.J. Watson managed only 2 points and was without a field goal in 20 minutes of PT. Ronnie Brewer was 1-for-6 for 3 points. John Lucas did score 16 points on 16 shots, but when your back court has a 7-for-31 night, then, as Rip said, the Bulls have to be better.
If you’re looking for positives, there were a few. Chicago’s D held Miami to 83 points on 42 percent shooting and limited them to only 5 fast break points. LeBron (8-for-18) and Dwyane Wade (7-for-16) didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. The Bulls bench outscored the Heat reserves 30-12.
But the bottom line is the Bulls lost. Now their margin of error is terribly slim, assuming they still want to finish with the best record in the East, and they do.
The Heat have four more games: versus the Wizards, versus Houston, at Boston and at Washington.
The Bulls have three games left: versus Dallas, at Indiana, and versus the Cavaliers.
Assuming the Heat win out — which puts the Bulls in a “control their own destiny” scenario — the Bulls must win two of their final three games and they must beat the Pacers.
Can they do it? Will Rose be back in time to help?