Miami takes 3-1 lead with one sided 88-65 win


May 14

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Why us? Why now? Why again? You heard it in their voices, if not always the words Monday when the Bulls lost 88-65 to the Miami Heat in probably the team’s worst ever playoff performance.

If the sentiment was determined afterward about going to Miami Wednesday to bring back to Chicago the series, now 3-1 in favor of the Heat, it also seemed tinged with resignation.

This plucky little engine of a basketball team had climbed and climbed and climbed that NBA mountain to the point it was becoming an inspiration as much as playing force, that the way the Bulls players were overcoming so many obstacles was transcending the game and teaching life lessons.

But eventually the realities of competition and talent overtake resolve. And no matter how badly you want something and how hard you try, you generally have to be better and have the troops as much as the motivation.

Joakim Noah

And the Bulls once again, like in 2011 when Omer Asik went down early in the conference finals, in 2012 when Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah went down in the first round and this season with Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out, face their own Waterloo.

“It’s been happening for the last four years,” sighed Taj Gibson. “We always have a good shot. But there’s always this bug that hits us late. It’s frustrating. We always had a good shot. We still have a great shot. But we always seem to end up having guys injured.

“We’re always undermanned and have to put forth a lot of energy to make up for bodies we don’t have,” Gibson went on, shaking his head. “Tonight we just didn’t have the energy. No excuses. We just did not have it.”

It never was much of a contest as the Bulls missed 11 of their first 12 shots, were trailing 11-2 less than five minutes into the game and the 21-15 deficit at the end of the first quarter would be the closest the Bulls would be for the rest of the game.

“Shots did not fall for us early,” agreed Joakim Noah, who had six points and nine rebounds on the day he was named a first team all-defensive player in the coaches’ voting. “We got a little discouraged and we can’t let that happen. We did not play very well. We did not execute very well. We can’t put our heads down. We know we can compete with this team. We just did not make shots.

“When you’re playing against the champs you’ve got to play a perfect game to have a chance to beat them,” added Noah. “It’s disappointing. But there is still basketball left. It’s not the end. It’s (now) do or die. We’ve got to go to Miami and get a win and go to Game 6.”

What else can anyone say, and that’s pretty much what all the Bulls players said. Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 14 points and 12 rebounds, pointed to the Nets rallying from 3-1 down after the devastating triple overtime loss to get to a Game 7. Nate Robinson, who was zero for 12 shooting and scoreless, said he might go 12 for 12 next time.

But the spirit wasn’t in their voices this time. Sure, it was after a brutal, debilitating home playoff loss. So you’d hardly expect an immediate cavalry charge. But after the Game 1 win in Miami, the Bulls have been outscored by an average of 23.3 points per game and have lost each game by double digits.

The Bulls 65 points in Game 4 was an alltime franchise playoff low as was their nine third quarter points when Miami went ahead by 19. The Bulls’ shot a playoff low 25.7 percent and two of 17 on threes. It also was the lowest playoff shooting percentage for any team in the last nine years. The 65 points allowed was Miami’s second best ever defensive playoff performance.

Nobody among the Bulls quit, and no one is seeking sympathy. But without Rose, Deng and Hinrich and playing a basically healthy defending champions, though Dwyane Wade appeared to reinjure a knee, the good times tend to hit a wall. And it’s not like anyone much cares.

“They’re in a tough situation,” said LeBron James, who led Miami with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. “They’ve had some injuries and illnesses and whatever’s going on. They don’t have their full roster. But that’s not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team without their full roster.”

Not that good really, but James has to play along as well.

To use a bad boxing cliché, it was like the Bulls were out on their feet. They weren’t counted out yet and the crowd still was cheering, and, hey, there have been surprise late knockouts. But rarely.

Robinson was hunched over the scorers’ table apparently to rest several times when teammates were shooting free throws. Jimmy Butler went for a bench seat, even after halftime when teammates were shooting. Bulls players were bent over to catch their breath. As much as they desired, they couldn’t catch the guys running way out in front.

Carlos Boozer

Not that they didn’t try, which you knew the Bulls would. They outrebounded Miami 46-36. One of the game keys always has been if they can win the rebounding battle by double digits they’d win the game. Too bad this time so many of the rebounds — 19 offensive — were chasing their own misses. But you saw signs immediately of the fatigue, and not only in so many missed shots.

The Heat had a 19-7 edge in fast break points, but 15-0 in the first half when they led 44-33. ESPN stats recorded Miami with 29 transition points, tied for their playoff best in the last three years. Miami was in a sprint and the Bulls looked like they were finishing a triathlon. The Heat is shooting more than 50 percent combined the last three games with Chris Bosh adding another strong shooting game and 14 points.

“I knew from the first quarter how tough it would be giving them so much confidence,” said Gibson. “Bosh hitting long range jump shots. It showed throughout the game. One thing you cannot do is get in a big hole early. It’s the one thing an away team wants, to come in and hit you in the mouth and get a big lead. We let that happen.”

Really, in some respects the Bulls, if not exposing Miami, showed their vulnerabilities. Wade for the second playoffs in a row has knee problems. These aren’t getting better in subsequent years. He had six points and has been no factor in the playoffs. Bosh was seven of 10 shooting as the Bulls had to use Noah against him with the less mobile Boozer playing Udonis Haslem. Thus, Noah got caught helping inside and Bosh had open shots, which he made after Game 1.

But otherwise, the Heat is a standstill shooting team for the most part dependent on James’ penetration to collapse the defense and open the court. It works because James is so good and requires so much attention. When he is engaged, which he has been basically other than the first game, he’s the greatest force in the game.

There was none of the cheap or physical stuff in Game 4 as the Bulls got quickly behind and didn’t seem to have it in them this time in what may have been the last game this season in the United Center.

“Each game is different,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “This one was real different from the last one.”

This one was nothing like basically any of the games between the teams the last three years, which suggested where the Bulls are. You apply the whip to that thoroughbred too much and eventually it just can’t run anymore. The heart still can be there, but not the legs.

Which doesn’t mean the Bulls won’t show up in Miami with a game plan and a belief, and this team has surprised everyone in Chicago and around the NBA too many times not to be taken seriously. They certainly have gotten Miami’s attention.

“Ideally this is how we want to start (games),” added Spoelstra. “However, we’ve done that before against this team and they came back. We have to go in with a mindset to approach this (next) game with desperation and urgency. This team is far too dangerous as we have seen.”

We’ll see at least one more time.

It never was there from the start for the Bulls, though Miami had a lot to do with that. Their defense led by James is aggressive in overplaying; they denied the entry passes to the post, keeping the Bulls on the outside. And, frankly, it just proved too difficult for Robinson against Miami’s traps and blitzes against the pick and roll. That’s the staple of their defense, which requires quickly passing out and reversing the ball to the other side. All good defenses prosper when you don’t move the ball.

Jimmy Butler

Miami has something to do with that as well as their players are good denying the passes. Plus, Robinson really isn’t a true point guard. You cannot blame him.

He’s been vital to the Bulls anemic offense and saved the first round with his Game 4 thrills. But he dribbles the ball constantly into the traps, thus unable to find Boozer and running into turnovers and slowing movement. Without Hinrich, the Bulls go at times to Belinelli to make plays. But he and Robinson got off cold, a combined two of 12 in the first quarter as Boozer had fewer shots than either. The best plans often got awry when you don’t have the right people in the right positions, though you often are asking them on this Bulls team to be something they are not.

“He is a tough guy to trap,” said Spoelstra of Robinson. “He is like a whirling toy out there. We finally had some timely traps on him and were able to force some turnovers.”

Richard Hamilton finally played in the series with Belinelli in foul trouble and did well with 11 points and a team best four assists in about 22 minutes. Though Thibodeau never much said why Hamilton was sitting, it seemed basically for defensive reasons as Thibodeau hews toward a defensive lineup as much as possible in the playoffs. So Hamilton has basically been the good teammate and tried to just provide veteran experience and knowledge.

“I told him that in Game 1 against Brooklyn but Brooklyn didn’t do it,” Hamilton said of the trapping he predicted in speaking with Robinson. “You’ve got to expect them to trap you. When you’re a scorer and you’re going against great defensive teams, they’re going to do everything possible to take you out of the game. So now you’ve got to figure out different counters and read their defense and find different openings. That’s the playoffs. They do an excellent job of scouting everybody and that’s what makes great players, the playoffs, because they don’t let you go to your plays.”

Hamilton admitted he was disappointed about falling out of the rotation, though he said he just tried to lend what support he could.

“They’re probably happy I’m not playing,” Hamilton laughed when he was asked about not getting a chance to go against old rivals like Wade and Ray Allen. “It’s difficult to have to sit on the sideline. The thing is you stay ready.

“One of the biggest things for me was I was brought here for this,” Hamilton said about the playoffs and being surprised after all that has transpired of suddenly being called in. “My goal is to win championships and try to help my teammates. It was fun for me to be out there on floor again. A lot of stuff in life you don’t understand.
I try to stay positive, not rock the boat, let them know what they need to me to I’ll do. I can’t be bitter. This league always has been great to me. Sometimes you just can’t control things.”

That being the Bulls with the Heat as well.

James was attacking the basket early, which is a bad sign. As well as Butler has played him, there’s no stopping an energized James, who several times just buried himself deep in the post and scored easily. Sometimes you wonder why he doesn’t take positions like that all the time. But he is unlike a lot of the scoring stars of the game as not so much taking plays off but looking to involve teammates even when his scoring chances are simpler.

Other than James and Bosh, no one got much going for the Heat. Not even the unstoppable Norris Cole, whom the Bulls held to one of two threes after he’d made eight straight. And the one he did make was a 27 footer to end the third quarter to put Miami ahead 61-42. Not that the Bulls were showing much sign of life with that nine point third quarter on 15 percent shooting.

“For me, if I make half the shots we’re in the game,” said the irrepressible Robinson with a zero for six quarter in the third. “That’s how I think about it. I just think you have games like that where you can’t make a shot but you have to keep fighting, keep playing just like the team as a whole. 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. 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.

“When you’re trying to shoot shots you make every day, every game and they don’t fall, it takes a toll,” said Robinson, who also finally may have taken too many hits.

His shoulder was banged up and a problem. After Game 3, he as wearing a bandage on his chest from being fallen on, which seemed a Miami tactic. It was why Noah rushed over in Game 3 and got a technical for pushing Chris Andersen. Miami players were picking themselves up off fallen Bulls with an extra push, though there was none of that in Game 4. And Robinson still had that swollen lip from his goal line collision with James.

“You have to believe and keep your confidence up and we’ll be alright,” said Robinson with a bit of that Peter Pan emerging. “It will be a test for us. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Everyone said we wouldn’t win a game. We got one. We believe we can win the series.”

How’s that Peter Pan thing go about lacking a belief? You don’t want a team falling down dead. So you continue to believe. But it becomes more and more difficult the fewer kids you seem to have around every year to help you defeat the crocs and Hook.

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