The Chicago Bulls fought it tooth and nail, but on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, their season officially ended when the Miami Heat blew an early double-digit lead and then rallied back from a double-digit deficit to escape with the 94-91 win. The Heat will move on to face the winner of the series between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The game felt, in more than a few ways, like a microcosm of the Bulls’ season. The Heat jumped out to an 18-2 lead as Chicago seemed mired in the same funk they’d shown in game four. Big picture-wise, that matches up with the Bulls being under .500 in late November after blowing a 27-point lead to the Milwaukee Bucks, unless you prefer their late-December malaise, when they lost consecutive games in blowouts, had a game cancelled due to snow and then lost at home to the Charlotte Bobcats. The surge to take a double-digit lead of their own toward the end of the first quarter and into the second was their January hot streak, when they went 12-4 and sat just games behind the Heat for the best record in the East.
Of course, the Heat would eventually respond and retake the lead. The Bulls’ offense disappeared, much as it did in February, March and April, when Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Marco Belinelli all missed time with various injuries and the Bulls went 17-2o as they limped into the playoffs.
Chicago didn’t go down quietly, however, even after Miami regained control. Nate Robinson hit a three to make it a three-point game, and the Bulls got the stop they needed. This would be when Chicago fought through injuries and the flu to beat the Brooklyn Nets on their home floor in game seven and then took their talents to South Beach and shocked the Heat.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Nate, only on the floor because of injuries to Hinrich and Derrick Rose, forced up a three that would have tied the game and missed. The Bulls got the rebound, but Hamilton — only on the floor because Luol Deng was out — couldn’t do anything with it. The ball wound up with Jimmy Butler, who played all 48 minutes in five of the Bulls last seven games after Deng went down and only got his chance to start because Hamilton and Belinelli got hurt, and he had to put up a three at the buzzer. Alas, he missed.
And so begins an offseason that figures to be much more palatable than last. Barring a move to amnesty Carlos Boozer — which is extremely unlikely — the Bulls’ starting five is set for next year. Rose, Deng and Hinrich should all be healthy by then. Daequan Cook, Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed and Rip Hamilton will all most likely be gone. Robinson and Belinelli are undetermined. But more on that tomorrow.
For now, I leave you with this: The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls may not have been the most talented bunch, but they left it all out on the floor. So we salute them, and bid them a restful summer. May they come back even stronger in the fall.