CHICAGO — There is footage from the middle of the decade of a United States rocket attempting to lift off for space. It lifts off a few feet above the ground to a triumphant vibe, only to collapse into itself and explode in a vibrant ball of defeat and embarrassment. Who knew that so long ago the Chicago Bulls exit from the 2011 playoffs was being recorded.
The Bulls were going to force a Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is until LeBron James and Dwayne Wade torched the Bulls defense and went on a violent 18-3 run in the last 3:00 to obliterate a 12 point deficit.
Meltdown doesn’t even come close to describing what happened to the Bulls Thursday in Game 5.
“At the end, it’s all me. Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. The series is over.” -Derrick Rose on Game 5 and his performance
They blew it. Plain and simple they absolutely proved there is no such things as a sure thing even if said thing is a 12 point lead in the biggest spot you can possibly imagine against an opponent half of the globe is rooting against. The Bulls proved that as much as you want, no matter how much you say post season experience doesn’t matter, it does; big time. They proved that it’s not hard to look absolutely dreadful and look like a complete shell of the team you were. They proved that defining the utter unraveling of a team’s mental preparedness is as easy as the Heat’s last three minutes of Game 5.
If there was a way to crash and burn out of the playoffs, the Bulls did that in Game 5 literally letting the Heat burn them into a coma where all they could do was watch LeBron James earn his money. James had 28 points total, but the biggest of them came in the fourth quarter where the two time MVP hit 10 big time points, 8 of which came in those last three crucial minutes.
“They’re Hollywodd as Hell…but they’re a very good team. So you have to give credit where credit is due.” -Joakim Noah on the status of the Heat
If the Heat end up winning the Finals this year, analysts will point to the three minute surge Miami threw down which is already starting to sound like the stuff of legend. It’s also a gigantic and extremely sour and bitter pill everyone around the Bulls to swallow. They had a 10 point lead at the three minute mark.
A five point lead at the two minute mark.
And by the time the game entered its final minute, the Bulls found themselves tied at 79 with the Heat thanks to, who else, LeBron James hitting a 25-foot jumper. A half minute later, James would hit another three and deliver the sledge hammer blow to the Bulls season.
“I do think experience helps,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That being said, all these games came down to the end. … Tonight, we had the lead and we couldn’t hold onto it. Hopefully, we learn from that, move on. I think you use this experience to drive you so you can improve for next year.
The Bulls proved to be a team that lived and died with its MVP Derrick Rose this postseason and that was personified with him missing a free throw that would have toed the game and then him getting denied by LeBron James a 26 foot jumper that would have again tied it as time expired.
“At the end, it’s all me,” Rose said. “Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. The series is over.”
The Bulls will move on, but this is going to take a lot to get over. There was an explosion inside the United Center on Thursday and the tremors will be felt all the way until well into next November.
Looking Forward to 2012
But even with the defeat, the Bulls have a lot to hang their hat on and have plenty of reasons to, despite the cliche, hold their heads high.
They may not have been able to capture the illusive and exclusive title ring, but the have plenty of awards to stuff on the mantle and be proud of. After all they had the 2011 NBA’s Best Record, the Eastern Conference’s Number 1 seed, the NBA’s MVP. the NBA’s Coach of the Year and the NBA’s Co-Executive of the Year.
5 out of 6 ain’t bad folks.
Besides, this team is locked down and eared up for a long time with Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and (give it about five seconds after his press conference) Derrick Rose all locked up for the better part of the next decade. That means this team can only go up and when your 2011 season peaked at the Eastern Conference Finals, there’s only one place to move up to.
And if nothing else, it took Michael Jordan a few years to get his first (of many) rings.
The Bulls may have lost tonight and their season may be over, but they aren’t really going anywhere. Like Obi-Wan Knebobi, Yoda and Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Bulls will only get wiser from this and will be around for a long time with the Force very much with them.
After all, Chicago is a real city, with real fans and a really good basketball team.