To borrow a line from Clerks: Shawn Marion wasn’t even supposed to be here today!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last night after work, I met up with Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell at a little dive called Stocks & Blondes. We shared three buckets of beer, a couple plates of random chicken parts, and several hours of intense basketball conversation/debate on a pretty wide range of topics. It was kind of like being on a roller coaster, where you know you’re not going to fall out but it kind of feels like you are. Good times.
And in the background: The Heat-Bulls game.
We had to kind of harass our waitress to get the game turned on, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering we were smack dab in the middle of the Loop. (What, they don’t show Bulls games in Chicago anymore? We’d just won five of seven!) But eventually, about midway through the first quarter, we got our wish. And between conversation and gossip and trade rumors, we kept track of the game.
I became immediately nervous when I saw Shawn Marion was going to play. I said in the game preview that Marion’s absence was going to be a key to the game, that it would give Chicago’s frontcourt the advantage. Not only did his presence have one of those all-around impacts — 12 points, 6-for-10, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks — he ended up hitting the game winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I also noted in the preview that Michael Beasley hadn’t scored 20 points in 14 games and he’d been held to single digits (7 and 4) in the last two, but “given…the ‘versus Rose’ angle, I’d expect Beasley to come out pretty fired up tonight.” Was I right? Well, let’s see: Beasley shoved aside all that “he’s been a bust” talk to contribute 21 points (on 9-for-10 shooting!!), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and 2 blocks in 30 minutes off the bench. I’d say that qualifies as “fired up.”
Beasley’s biggest impact came during a monster third-quarter stretch in which he dropped 13 on 5-for-5 shooting, including a three that put Miami up 74-60 with less than two minutes left in the period. Derrick had a good game (18 points, 7-for-14, 4 boards, 6 assists and a steal in 39 minutes), but Beasley got the better of this rookie matchup. Beware the players who are trying to make a statement.
I also pointed out that Dwyane Wade has struggled at the United Center. Coming into the game, he’d averaged only 16.6 points on 36.1 percent shooting in his last five games in our place, where the Heat had dropped three in a row. Well, I guess I stat cursed the Bullies, because Pookie scored 24 (although he shot poorly, only 9-for-23). But it wasn’t so much the points as when he scored them. Wade took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 8 points and, even more painfully, dishing to Marion for the winning flush with 1.1 seconds.
It was a bummer, no question about it. The Bulls, after trailing for most of the game, came back to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining. Then the teams traded runs — 8-0 for Miami, 7-0 for Chicago — and the game got knotted up at 93-all with 6.5 seconds left. The last trio of points of that Bulls run came from three free throws by Ben Gordon, who got fouled by Daequan Cook on a three-point attempt. I don’t know if anybody keeps stats on this, but Gordon has to lead the league in getting fouled while shooting threes. It must happen once a game, and it always seems to occur at a critical time.
I have to admit that, before the season, I was all for letting Ben walk or shipping him off in a sign-and-trade deal. I was really tired of him. But even though I haven’t been impressed with some of his antics this season, I’ve also sort of fallen back in love with him (metaphorically and Platonically speaking). He’s easily the Bulls’ most consistent player, both offensively and in general. You always know what you’re going to get out of Ben Gordon, and he’ll occasionally give you a bigger game than usual. He did last night. Not just those free throws, but also a game-high 34 points. He even had 16 free throw attempts. I don’t know if Ben is going to be around next season, but mark my words, he’ll never be as valuable for any other team as he is and has been for the Bulls.
So the score was tied and the Heat had the ball. Kirk Hinrich then stole Marion’s inbound pass and I jumped right out of my seat and high-fived a slightly confused Graydon (he was afraid that Hinrich had been called for a foul). It seemed like the perfect setup for another miracle finish or, at worst, overtime. Unfortunately, Miami threw a wet blanket over the Bulls and Thabo Sefolosha — I’m sorry, but why was he even in the game, Vinny?! — threw it right into Wade’s waiting hands. Now the Heat had it with 3.5 seconds.
Update! Here’s how Thabo described his turnover: “We had no timeouts left. I was really looking for the first and second options that we had. After that, I knew the time was running out [for a five-second violation], so I had to get rid of it. I just threw it in. [The options] are a layup on that and the five [Joakim Noah] supposedly coming back to the ball to be the safety guy. I was really looking at Ben, so I don’t know who was open.” You know who wasn’t open? Derrick Rose. Why? HE WASN’T IN THE FREAKING GAME! What the bleepity-bleep?! Here’s Vinny’s explanation for that puzzling call: “Kirk was playing well. just wanted to go that way.” Okay, fine. But why put Thabo in for the most important offensive possession of the game over Rose? I’m mystified. Absolutely mystified.
I wasn’t all that worried because, first off, there were only 3.5 seconds. And second, even though Miami has a superstar in Wade who’s entirely capable of beating you in that amount of time, Chicago had a foul to give and I was sure they’d use it almost immediately, killing a second or two off the clock. That would have most likely forced the Heat to jack it up from the outside…and I was fine with that.
Instead, the Bulls didn’t foul, Tyrus Thomas collapsed on a driving Wade who hit a cutting Marion for the stuff. Game over. I don’t know if it was a mental error by Tyrus or bad coaching by Vinny. But it shouldn’t have happened. How do you give up a game-winning dunk in a situation like that? To borrow a line from The Princess Bride, it’s inconceivable. And painful. And heartbreaking. And [insert description of disappointment here]. Seriously, even if Vinny for some bizarre reason decided NOT to use the foul they had to give, he should have instructed his guys to 1) stay in front of the player who catches the ball (in this case Wade) and guard the man inbounding the ball (in this case Marion) because, as Hubie Brown likes to say, that’s the most dangerous person in end-of-game situations. Instead, they didn’t take the foul, they didn’t stay in front of Wade and they didn’t guard Marion. Terrible.
A few other random notes: Thomas fell just short of another double-double (15 points, 8 rebounds). The Bulls once again committed too many turnovers, 19 in all, led by Tyrus with a game-high 6 of them. The Heat also committed turnovers, but the Bulls gave up eight more points off of theirs (22-14)…including the last two of the game. Joakim Noah pulled down a game-high 11 boards (5 offensive) but struggled to score (5 points, 1-for-5). Chicago outscored Miami 22-15 in fast break points, and I’d really like to see our guys run more, like, at every possible opportunity. Oh, and Luol Deng continued to be MIA since I dubbed him “back” after the Rockets game: 6 points, 2-for-6, 3 boards.