Bulls shouldn’t sweat loss to Heat
The Big Three versus the MVP. That was the showdown in South Beach on Sunday. The Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls, the clear top-two teams in the East and quite possibly the entire league, squared off for the first time since their Eastern Conference Finals encounter in May. Unfortunately for the Bulls though, they came up short in the end just as they did a mere eight months ago.
Derrick Rose, the youngest player ever to win the NBA’s MVP, has openly shouldered the blame for the Bulls’ failure in the ECF. The five-game series loss ate at him alive and motivated him throughout the extended lockout-induced offseason. Even as he downplayed Sunday’s matchup against the Heatles, it was very apparent that he wanted this game bad.
In fact, up until the final 22.7 seconds of the game, D-Rose appeared to be on a mission to will his team to victory, to make amends for his “shortcomings” back in May. Rose could not be kept out of the paint, crossing his defender up and repeatedly twisting, spinning and weaving his way to the basket for layups. Then just as he had all game, he got to the free-throw line with a chance to give the Bulls their first lead of the game with 22.7 seconds left to play in the game. Yet despite a perfect 29-29 mark this season in the fourth quarter, Rose missed not only his first free throw, but his second as well, and the Bulls dropped a heartbreaker 97-93.
Although it was a gut wrenching loss, the bottom line is that it’s just a regular season game and it won’t matter much come the playoffs as the Bulls very well know. Last year, the Heat dropped all three regular season meetings, but it was the Bulls who spent the finals at home.
So what did we learn on Sunday that we didn’t know coming into the game? Not a whole bunch. The Heat have three of the best four players on either roster in LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh and the Bulls have Rose. In crunch time with the game on the line, the Heat have three guys they can go to and the Bulls have just one. This we already knew.
However unlike last year, this year’s Bulls team is even better equipped to unseat the Heat as the East’s finest. Rip Hamilton gives Chicago another offensive option on the perimeter that they didn’t have last year, which cannot go without saying. The signing of Hamilton just adds to Chicago’s already superior depth over their rivals. Whereas the Big Three combined for 74 of the team’s 97 points (and were the only three players to score in double-figures), the entire Bulls starting lineup recorded 10 points or more. Sure the team often is D-Rose or bust, but after the four superstars, the Bulls have arguably the next five best players in Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson (probably in that order).
The fact that with the exception of the third quarter, the Bulls faced a double-digit deficit and somehow still managed to fight their way back until the end is impressive. It’s even more impressive that they did it without their second-best player, Luol Deng, and their backup point guard, C.J. Watson, who both missed the game with wrist injuries.
Would Deng have been able to D up James and slow him down enough while also giving the Bulls another option on the offensive end? Probably. Would Watson have been able to give Rose some rest throughout the game to preserve his legs just enough for the crucial end? Most likely. At the end of the day though, the Bulls as a team didn’t get it done when it mattered most on Sunday.
Just as he did when his team came up short in May, Rose once again put the blame on himself for missing the pair of free throws as well as a potential game-tying shot a possession later on Sunday, saying, “It was me. All the plays at the end.”
He vowed to make up for the ECF loss and he almost did that on Sunday. Almost. He put in 34 points, but needed 36. Now he’ll have 45 days to stew in his anger until these two rivals meet again and you better bet that he’ll come out even stronger come March 14 when the showdown moves to the Windy City.
Rose guarantees that those shots he missed today will go down the next time, and with that mentality, the Big Three better watch themselves. This rivalry is just getting started.
Miami may have the edge right now, but the MVP is seeing red and he will not be denied.
And what a show that’ll be.