Did the NBA playoffs start already?
Yesterday’s slug fest between the Bulls and Heat sure felt like a postseason match-up. Big shots. Big misses. Amazing plays and critical mistakes. Pushing. Shoving. Cursing. Call and non-calls that surely had both fan bases freaking out.
And let’s not forget two superstars — Derrick Rose (34 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) and LeBron James (35 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) — going all out for the win.
So all out, in fact, that they may have been to pooped to pop in the closing seconds. With 22 seconds left, Rose misfired on a pair of free throws. Hitting one would have tied the game. Hitting both would have given the Bulls a one-point lead.
After those bricks, Joakim Noah was forced to foul LeBron. Knocking down both freebies would have given Miami a three-point lead.
Said Dwyane Wade: “I couldn’t believe [Rose] missed both. I couldn’t believe LeBron missed both, either. Averaged itself out, I guess.”
Then things got a little weird. Rip Hamilton didn’t block Wade out on LeBron’s second miss from the line, and Wade seemed to knock the ball away from Taj Gibson, with Bosh recovering. Only Wade may have been out of bounds when he hit the ball. And there was in inadvertent whistle on the play.
It took the officials a few minutes to sort everything all out. The end result was a jump ball between Gibson and LeBron. James won the tip and the ball ended up in the hands of Mario Chalmers, who was fouled and hit one of two from the line. The Bulls got one more play to tie or win, but Rose’s one-handed floater from 14 feet hit the front of the rim.
Ever since the Bulls were eliminated by the Heat in Game 5 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Rose has been adamant about taking every last ounce of blame on himself for losing that playoff series. And he clearly has been dreaming of redemption.
He didn’t get it yesterday.
Mind you, before those missed foul shots, Rose had been 29-for-29 from the foul line in the fourth quarter so far this season.
Said Rose: “This is so unreal right now. Knowing that I had the chance to change the game, and this time it didn’t work out. I know my will to win is still very high, but I guarantee the next time those shots are going down.
“It was definitely tough. All I can say is I guess God do everything for a reason. I’ve been in those situations before, knocked them down, but to miss both (free throws) … I let my team down. The only thing I can do is learn from it.
“It was me. All the plays at the end. If I would have hit them free throws, it never would have gotten that far. I know I can live with it. It’s just going to make me a stronger player and it’s onto the next game.”
It might have helped had C.J. Watson not missed the game with a wrist injury. Maybe then Rose wouldn’t have had to play 45 minutes of meat-grinding basketball. Maybe then he would have had the legs he needed to knock down those freebies.
Speaking of wrists, it also might have benefited the Bulls to have Luol Deng around to defend LeBron. Give Ronnie Brewer props for effort, but he was very clearly physically outmatched. Which isn’t to say Deng could have shut LeBron down. Nobody can do that. But Lu might have forced one or two extra misses…and that could have been the difference.
But who knows?
One thing we do know is the following: This was one of “those games” that make Bulls fans say “Boozer” like it’s a curse word. Carlos played only 28 minutes before fouling out with only 10 points and 9 rebounds. And Boozer didn’t attempt a single free throw.
Meanwhile, Chris Bosh finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, shot 8-for-14 from the field, and went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Boozer is supposed to be this team’s second scoring option. Some nights, he is. Other nights, he really, really isn’t.
And so here we are again: Rose logging big minutes and doing all the heavy lifting on offense. No relief from Boozer. Nor Hamilton (11 points on 4-for-16 shooting with 5 turnovers). And Deng was out, obviously.
Can the Bulls succeed this way? With Rose being the only consistent scoring threat? Chicago’s spread-the-wealth offensive philosophy has worked pretty well this season against lesser teams. But will it work in the playoffs against the better ones? Like, say, Miami?
It didn’t last spring, when the Bulls were able to stand up to the Heat but came up a little bit short in four straight playoff losses following a Game 1 blowout win.
Of course, I say this after the Bulls nearly stole one on the road in a postseason-like game in which they were missing two important players. So it’s not all doom and gloom.
But if the Bulls were searching for a sign that something had changed since last postseason…
…they didn’t find it.