Friday, 27 May 2011

Bulls' season ends with 83-80 defeat

That's the season folks. The Chicago Bulls lost their do-or-die Game 5 83-80 to the Miami Heat in the United Center. With it, the Miami Heat won the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 to progress to the 2011 NBA Finals, where they will face Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

A game that the Bulls had to win but didn't. The game turned out to be a microcosm of this entire season for Chicago. It started off as usual with the Bulls falling behind early as they came out of the blocks nervy and gave up a handful of early fast-break buckets to James in particular. Then the comeback started as Chicago's notoriously tough and active defense turned up and dragged the team kicking and screaming to a 7 point lead at half-time. All looked good. Derrick Rose was getting into the lane and to the free throw line. Luol Deng's shots were falling and Boozer's defense was not being exposed.

The second half did not change much with Chicago extending the lead thanks to the bench unit doing some heavy work. Kurt Thomas checked in for 4 points and 8 rebounds to steady the ship as Noah and Boozer picked up fouls. The momentum in the game really changed with a Carlos Boozer flagrant foul with 2:43 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Lebron James was driving to the basket from the left sideline when Boozer, late on coming across, mushed James across the jaw with his arm as he appeared to go for the ball. Against a non-star player, that would be a debatable flagrant. Against James that is a no-brainer. Boozer got the whistle, James made two free-throws. When the Heat went to inbound the ball from the sideline following the flagrant, another foul was called that sent Miami to the line for another two. Finally, Noah and Boozer were fighting 3 Heat players for a loose ball when a foul was called on Boozer for clearing out - replays showed that this was one of the worst calls of the game as there was marginal contact that deserved a foul. Taj Gibson was then tagged with a Technical foul and thus another free-throw given away that ended up with the Heat attempting 8 free throws over the final 2:30 of the third quarter.

It still looked good for Chicago to get the win and possibly turn the momentum of the series in their favour deep into the 4th quarter as Chicago had a 10 point lead at 77-67. Then the season fell apart for the Bulls as the Heat defense stepped up a level. Deng scored just 2 points all 4th quarter, a season-long issue that has hurt Chicago against a Heat defense that demands scores on virtually every possession. Carlos Boozer, "second scoring option" when he was signed in July sat the entire 4th as he turned in a stinker: 5pts and 6 rebounds. With a 12-pt lead late in the 4th, Bulls' coach Thibodeau felt that his defensive lineup could get the job done. This wasn't to be the case as the Heat erased the lead in just a handful of plays: Wade and James both completed 3-pt plays before Wade made a 3 and was fouled, scoring a 4th point off the free-throw. Ronnie Brewer split two free throws to make the lead 3 before James hit back-to-back threes to tie and then take the lead as no Bulls player could hit a shot late. Rose had two free-throws to tie the game but missed the second. It would be unfair to pin the loss on that missed free-throw because games are long enough that it should never come down to a one-point shot with 25seconds to play.

Thibodeau then showed his own inexperience as he sent Rose into an isolation against Wade, followed by Lebron double-teaming him against the sideline as the clock ticked to zero. Rose had to force the three up and was blocked by James as the buzzer sounded on Chicago's season. While it could be argued that refereeing decisions cost the Bulls this game, that would be excusing another dismal fourth quarter effort in which the Heat scored 26 points.

Let the off-season begin.

I will be previewing the 2011 NBA Finals, between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, over the weekend.

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