Bulls fall to Heat in regular season classic


Jan 29

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Yes, the Bulls Sunday lost 97-93 to their newest rival, the Miami Heat, and Derrick Rose was disconsolate after missing two free throws with 22.7 seconds left that could have given the Bulls a one-point lead.

“I’ve been in those situations before and knocked down both,” said Rose, alternately still shaking his head in disbelief and choking up at times in a business-like Bulls postgame locker room. “To miss both, I let my team down. This is so unreal for now, knowing I had chance to change the game. I guarantee next time the shots are going down. Thank God we play tomorrow.

“It was me, all the plays at the end,” Rose went on as it almost seemed for a bit reporters were trying to make Rose cry (always good TV). “I would have hit the free throws it never would have gotten that far. I know I can live with it. It’s just going to make me stronger. Gimme one. I missed both those (free throws). C’mon! The only thing I can think of is God does everything for a reason. (If He’s) telling me to work on free throws more, I’ll do that.”

Rose always does this — no, not miss potential game winning free throws as that’s LeBron James’ job — in accepting blame for every loss.

Anyone who saw a terrific regular season game Sunday on national TV knows that’s nonsense. Because playing without injured Luol Deng and C.J. Watson (which required Rose to play almost 45 minutes) and with Richard Hamilton limited and perhaps out again Monday, Rose was as spectacular as he’s ever been in bringing the Bulls back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit with twisting, turning, slashing drives again and again through double and triple teams for 34 points, six assists and six rebounds.

“He is an unbelievable talent, great player and great person,” said James.

James led Miami with 35 points, 11 rebounds and five assists but six turnovers and one of the highlight dunks of the season when he took a lob pass from Dwyane Wade and one handed it jumping over John Lucas III. Chris Bosh added 24 points and 12 rebounds and Wade had 15, though on four of 16 shooting as Hamilton did an excellent job frustrating Wade.

No other Bull scored more than 11 points and without Rose’s remarkable and determined play the Bulls never would have been in the game after trailing by a dozen in the second quarter and never leading.

As breathtaking as some of the Wade to LeBron acrobatics were early when Miami bolted out 18-7, Rose was the best player in the game.

I was talking with the legendary coach and Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay before the game. He was doing the game for ESPN radio and he posited something I’d considered but never took seriously given we in Chicago are so close in seeing Rose all the time.

Ramsay, who has seen the game for more than a half century, said he’d considered all the NBA history he knows and said he believed Rose is the best penetrating guard in the history of the game. And Rose sure looked like it with a good Miami defense basically devoting all its help and coverage to him.

Ronnie Brewer, starting for Deng, was virtually unguarded. Similarly, Noah rarely is defended, Carlos Boozer was lifted in and out for defense and played a starters’ low 27 minutes, and Hamilton admitted he wasn’t right with his nagging groin and thigh injuries. He was four of 16 for 11 points with five turnovers.

“The first quarter it felt pretty good,” said Hamilton, who limped out of the shower. “As the game went on, I felt like I was playing on one leg. It was a playoff atmosphere. You just try to will yourself through the game. I’m totally frustrated with (the injury). Your mind tells you one thing and your body is telling you something else. It felt like my whole left side (was hurt). You try to figure a way to get through it and help your team.”

So actually it was a little curious to see Hamilton running a lot of the offense after the Bulls tied the game at 84 with 6:55 left in the fourth.

At that point, the Heat in the much anticipated move switched James onto Rose, the defensive switch that many pointed toward in last season’s conference finals as decisive. Though previously when the Bulls played Cleveland in the playoffs, Rose had good success being guarded by James.

If only from a fans’ standpoint, you’d have liked to have seen Rose go against James, especially the way Rose was carving up the Heat defense, and that was even with James coming to help. So now Miami was going to mostly let James try to handle Rose.

But Rose dropped off the ball. He did get a pair of open jumpers, one a three with no one near him trailing 86-84 with 5:08 left that he missed. James then practically steamrolled over Brewer from the post to score inside to get the Miami lead back to four.

Boozer would then be called for an offensive foul on a drive and Rose missed another three after a Bosh miss. Noah then lost a pick and roll pass that James cleverly knocked off Noah, and Wade hit a floater to put Miami back ahead, seemingly comfortably, at 91-84 with 3:30 left.

That was perhaps the crucial stretch for the Bulls, though no one wanted to say Rose should have attacked James. Coach Tom Thibodeau, who seemed closing in on his first ejection several times with vivid discussions with the erratic officials, said it was merely a usual part of team strategy.

Rose said Wade had been going at Hamilton, and the offense needed to make Wade work more employing Hamilton.

“Coach tried new things and we were running a lot for Rip at that time,” Rose said. “D. Wade was going at Rip. We’re not going to let that happen without Rip going back. So we fed Rip the ball and Rip made some nice plays making him defend him.”

Hamilton said the plays for Boozer and Noah were good, but just didn’t work out.

It would have been nice to see Rose at that point attacking James, though we also assume Rose could have. With Watson out and Lucas overwhelmed, the Bulls couldn’t take Rose out and perhaps he just didn’t have enough stamina for those last free throws as he’s been sitting out games lately with his turf/sprained toe.

Of course, right after Rose missed his two, the Bulls had to foul and unfortunately Noah gave the foul, his sixth. James missed both as well with 17.6 seconds left. But Noah was out for what became the fateful jump ball of the game.

Actually, the Heat seemed to have the opportunity to blow open the game early in the fourth quarter after opening with a pair of threes to take the lead to 82-71. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra soon took out James with Wade out, and with only Bosh to anchor an ineffective second unit the Bulls went on 13-2 run capped by two absolutely fabulous Rose driving scores, spinning past and around the Heat help to tie it at 84.

So after Miami took that seven point lead with just over three minutes left, it looked over again. Taj Gibson made a strong baseline move for a score. But it was offset by James taking the ball to the basket and getting free throws, a 40-28 game margin for Miami.

It was 94-86 Miami with under two minutes left when Rose and Boozer connected on a nice pick and roll for a score, and then Boozer in his best sequence in the game forced a Wade turnover. Boozer, who had 10 points and nine rebounds, rebounded a Hamilton miss and in the scramble with Hamilton grabbing a Rose miss Boozer grabbed another offensive rebound and scored to close within 94-90 with 1:20 left. Hmmm, what do you know.

“It was a Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat kind of game,” said Wade. “It was like the playoffs in January. Two teams who know that at one point we are going to have to meet each other and go through each other to get to where we want to get to. As a fan of the game, I love watching games like that. We were pulling away. Every time we pulled away, they came back and made some.”

James then missed, and Rose ran out for a score and was fouled for a three point play to bring the Bulls within 94-93 with 49.1 seconds left (yes, he made the free throw, which would be his 28th straight in the fourth quarter this season).

James missed again as Miami wound down the clock, and that’s when Rose was fouled. And, shockingly, he missed the two. James, notorious for his poor fourth quarter free throw shooting, matched that.

“I could not believe that he missed both, and then I could not believe LeBron missed both,” said Wade. “Avenged itself, I guess.”

Then came the controversy of the game, and you knew there would be one in a game in which Wade and Noah got tangled with elbows flaring and got double technicals in the fourth quarter.

As James missed the second, the ball headed out of bounds and Wade ran to save it. It was unclear if he stepped out of bounds, though it appeared he did not. The ball came in and the Bulls seemed to get it and call time. But the officials blew a whistle and eventually it was determined it was inadvertent, resulting in a jump ball.

James jumped against Gibson and got possession.

“I had to get jump,” said James. “I missed the free throws. Chris (Bosh) looked at me and said he’d take the tip. I said, ‘No you don’t.’ I had to do something after missing those two free throws. I was winning that jump no matter what you say.”

Perhaps he would have against anyone. Noah had fouled out giving that foul on James to stop the clock, and Thibodeau put Boozer back into the game. He could not go to the bench at that point for someone else, so Omer Asik couldn’t jump, though he played little in the game after an early defensive mixup that seemed to upset Thibodeau and pretty much benched Asik for the game.

From the Bulls view, which was pretty unanimous in the locker room, they should have had the ball trailing by one with 16.8 seconds left.

“They said inadvertent whistle, but we called timeout,” said Gibson. “We thought we had the ball. It’s a tough way to go out. We gave ourselves a chance. We kept fighting back from 10, eight, six and had a shot to win. It hurts. We couldn’t capitalize.”

Thibodeau declined comment on the officiating and the call, perhaps because he’s still working on his first head coaching contract. Spoelstra said: “It was a tough call for both teams. It really was.
The ball bounced, there was a little bit of a strip and nobody had possession. One official called a timeout and the other said it was loose. It is a tough break for both teams. We were fortunate enough to get the jump ball.”

The Bulls fouled intentionally again and Mario Chalmers made one. He missed the second. Boozer grabbed the rebound and lost it, but Rose picked it up with the Heat leading 95-93 with 9.9 seconds left.

The Bulls decided to go for the tie as their three point shooting was just three of 11 with Rose zero for four. Rose had been beating the Heat all game down the right side and thought he had the corner turned. But Udonis Haslem stepped in and Rose had to circle back toward the middle and came up short on a 14 footer. Could he have passed? Last week, Rose was criticized some for passing to Brian Scalabrine for a last second shot that missed. The stars take the shots. Thibodeau had gotten Korver into the game, but Rose couldn’t find him. Plus, he had a look. It missed. Bosh rebounded and was fouled and made both to finally end it. The Bulls fell to 17-5, one game ahead of the 15-5 Heat.

“You never take anything positive from losses,” said Noah. “It’s a tough loss right now. “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.”

The game is about winning, of course, but as losses go for the Bulls it was a pretty good one. They were without their best defender on James and Rose’s backup and played Miami down to the last possession in Miami. Hamilton showed he could be very good defending Wade as he always was with Detroit when he regularly outplayed Wade in playoffs. Wade said before the game he didn’t look forward to chasing Hamilton of Hamilton’s size on him. Hamilton may be a major weapon later in this series.

This was a game in which Miami had just about everything going for them. And they had to struggle to win at home. They don’t look anywhere near invincible.

They started fast with highlight dunks to get the crowd into the game as the Bulls committed turnovers, the major sin against Miami. James had a dozen points in the first quarter with three highlight dunks. But Thibodeau cleverly pulled out a zone midway through the quarter which slowed down Miami and showed itself as a defensive weapon that could be effective later.

The Bulls were then able to get within 24-22 after one quarter as Thibodeau stayed with the zone the last six minutes. Noah continued to show the hustle he’s been known for in beating Heat centers down the floor several times, and Kyle Korver began to find his shot with a pair of second quarter threes as the Bulls trailed 56-51 at halftime.

Miami was completely healthy, and Bosh’s long range jumper was unerring, but Miami began to get so consumed with Rose they committed the defensive zone violation. With Hamilton off and then Deng back perhaps the Bulls will have enough offense. Though it just seems they remain one more perimeter offensive option short.

Gibson alternated with Boozer and made a pair of strong scoring moves along the baseline in the second quarter as his ankle seemed better.

Rose came out strong after halftime with several more highlight drives that are just spectacular to watch the way he drives, swerves, fakes, stops, watches defenders go by, cups the ball firmly and finishes high.

“Those floaters were tearing us up,” said Bosh.

That’s another flaw with the Heat the Bulls, especially Rose, can exploit. Miami really doesn’t have much shotblocking at the basket like the Bulls do. So Rose has more latitude to attack, and it doesn’t seem something the Heat can solve with a small second unit and Eddy Curry playing briefly and looking much too slow. I may have to revise my view on him helping them later this season.

“The way I see it, every time we play the Bulls it’s going to be like that,” said Bosh. “They’re all
probably going to come down to the last couple of possessions. They’re a great team, and we’re going to see them many, many times this year.”

And Rose is going to have his chances again, we know. No one gets compared with Michael Jordan as that’s unfair. But Michael missed plenty in his time, missed free throws like Rose did but in bigger, more important times. He came back better, and you know Rose will.

I refer Rose to Jordan’s words: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

We’ll see you again soon, Derrick. We can’t wait.

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