The word that best describes the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls is resilient.
If you follow this team, you know what they’ve endured. The season-long absence (and continued distraction) of Derrick Rose. The dismemberment of the Bench Mob. Injuries (and re-injuries) to key players. Long minutes. Little rest. Everything short of hordes of locusts and meteor storms.
Through it all, the Bulls have endured. They won 45 games. Earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Beat the Nets in a do-or-die Game 7 in Brooklyn. Won Game 1 of their second round playoff series against the Heat in Miami.
And while the Bulls have talent, even without Rose, they have not been as talented as their playoff opponents. Having Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out of action has only widened the talent disparity.
But what the Bulls lack in talent, they make up in sheer will power. That has been the defining characteristic of this team under coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibs always says the Bulls have more than enough to win — he probably would say that even if they had to suit up a few ball boys and a couple janitors — and the players believe it. Buy into it. Live it.
That said, Game 4 was the game when cracks began to form in that seemingly impenetrable wall of mental fortitude Thibodeau had built around his players. It was as if the team as a whole suddenly and unexpectedly realized how badly the odds were stacked against them.
It showed in every facet of the game. Yes, even the defense, despite the fact that Miami finished with only 88 points. The Heat still converted better than 80 percent of their shots at the rim (per Hoopdata) and scored at a rate of 106.5 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
Where the breakdown really showed was offense. Mind you, the Bulls have been a poor offensive team all season, and Miami certainly picked up their D in this game. But the Bulls were historically bad in Game 4. They compiled playoff franchise lows in points (65), field goal percentage (25.7) and third quarter point total (9). According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Bulls had never shot less than 30 percent in a playoff game, and they had scored below 70 points only once before, in a 95-69 loss to the Detroit Pistons back in 2007.
Check the shot chart if you have the stomach to do so. They Bulls were ice cold from everywhere.
Nate Robinson’s performance was symbolic of this group meltdown. Robinson — who has been the team’s best offensive player much of the season and certainly throughout these playoffs — went 0-for-12 from the field and was held scoreless in 32 minutes. He also had as many turnovers as assists (4).
As ESPN Stats and Information put it: “Nate Robinson’s 0-for-12 was two shots shy of the worst 0-for in NBA playoff history, a dubious mark shared by Chick Reiser (1948) and Dennis Johnson (1978).”
By the second half, Nate was gasping for breath and actually looked hesitant to shoot, which are two things I’ve never seen from him. It didn’t help that Miami’s defense was swarming him at every opportunity.
Said Shane Battier: ”Nate’s the one guy on their team who can put pressure on our defense off the bounce. He can create havoc. He gets inside the defense, he scores, he gets the crowd going and suddenly … It best serves us if we make him work, if we make him take a few more dribbles. It starts with Mario and Norris … when we get up into the ball handler we’re an entirely different team.”
Added Robinson: ”They did a good job defending of course. But I had a lot of open shots that I usually make and a lot of floaters that I usually make that I missed, but you can’t make every shot. At the same time you just have to know when it’s not your night and it wasn’t my night tonight. I just have to try to bounce back.”
Nate wasn’t alone in his offensive misery. Carlos Boozer led the team in scoring in Game 4 with 16 points but shot 3-for-14 from the field. Minus his Game 3 performance (21 points on 10-for-16 shooting), Boozer is averaging 9.3 points on 9-for-34 shooting. The Heat are pushing him out of his comfort zone near the basket and forcing jump shots over outstretched hands. And those shots aren’t falling.
But Boozer nixed the idea that he or the Bulls are running on fumes.
Said Boozer: ”Nah, not at all. It’s not over by a long shot. You saw what happened last series. We were up 3-1 against Brooklyn and there was a Game 7. For us, we just have to regroup and get the next game and bring it back here for Game 6.”
That’ll be a lot easier said than done.
If you want to talk about signs of offensive desperation, Rip Hamilton — who had logged a total of 10 minutes and 20 seconds of playoff action in two token appearances against the Nets — played 22 minutes in Game 4.
Said Hamilton: ”A lot of stuff in life you don’t understand. This is what I was brought here for. To not be able to play and help my teammates, it’s hard, it’s rough. But I try to stay positive. I don’t try to rock the boat. I just try be positive with them and let [teammates] know what they need to do out there and things like that. Tonight I got lucky. I got to go out there and play.”
Hamilton knocked down a couple threes, going 4-for-11 overall is unlikely to get him out of Thibodeau’s doghouse. If Rip plays in Game 5, his role and minutes will be limited.
ESPN’s Scoop Jackson warns not to give up on the Bulls in Game 5, but it’s hard to imagine what the Bulls could possibly have left. Rose isn’t going to suit up until next year. That much is obvious. Hinrich probably won’t be able to go. Deng might, but how much will he be able to contribute after losing 15 pounds and suffering through a debilitating illness?
Said Taj Gibson: “It’s hard to believe [all the injuries that have happened]. I don’t know, we’re just kind of putting screws and bandages everywhere. It’s frustrating. Every night, every day, we’re just trying to push through it.”
To a man, the coach and players will put everything they have into forcing a Game 6. But, unless they have one more miracle left in them, Game 5 will most likely be remembered as the last stand of the 2012-13 Bulls. There’s no shame in that. But it is a bummer.