Spoelstra Beat Thibs at His Own Game to Advance Past Bulls... And It Hurts

Spoelstra Beat Thibs at His Own Game to Advance Past Bulls... And It Hurts

The sadface following the Heat ending the Bulls' amazing season with a 83-80 Game 5 win to face the Mavs in the NBA Finals.

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There'll be a lot of spilled milk about referees and last offseason's collusion in Chicago until these Bulls pass these Heat in accomplishments, but the Heat clinched the Eastern Conference Finals with four straight wins by using a familiar formula.

All season, Tom Thibodeau's Bulls made up for inexperience by helping each other out on defense and not being a very dangerous offensive team with intense board crashing on both ends.
Pat Riley's video guy-turned-head coach, Erik Spoelstra, saw his team get beat by the Bulls in all three of their regular season matchups and in Game 1 of the ECF because of defense and rebounding. As great as the Heat's offense was all season, Spo made up for not being the younger team with gang help defense and not being as big with gang rebounding.
The racing thoughts and rapid cycling still render me incapable of a detailed recap, but the Heat deserve a ton of credit for playing extremely well together on both ends. And their coach deserves a ton of respect for communicating and scheming such a sophisticated help scheme.
Riley didn't just get a physical freak, prolific scorer, court general, and marketability with LeBron James in the offseason. He got one of the best defensive players since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined to terrorize the NBA wings on their paths to glory. He got one of the smartest and better on-court communicators in him, and there's no question that Spo engineered defensive schemes and counter-schemes around that better than it's been done for James before (with all due respect to Mike Brown).
There will be no more recaps here
It's sad to cover a team that over-achieved for an entire season, based on just about any serious preseason projections, when it hits the brick wall of finality. The Bulls aren't the typical up and coming team that just hits reality and has a taste to strive for something greater next year.
I'm not a romantic sports fan who obsesses over intangible mysticism and if you don't think those six banners at the United Center rafters are meaningless, you're generally right. But when every Bull looked to sky for answers, as a natural human reaction to shock, all they saw were banners.
The Bulls play in a city that packs and rocks the arena every night -- literally. This team is trending toward another sellout streak at the ticket window that will again dominate the NBA because Chicagoans want another era of raising banners. It's a Bears and Cubs town, but the 1990s Bulls will always be appreciated as the sports team that you could count on to comfort the blows sustained from the others. Sometimes, a crush is so far escalated by not having the one you want, it gets too difficult to gauge how much of that desire is genuine and how much is simply envy; but the one who's always there for you when every time you don't get the desired response from the crush is the most special one in your life, and you don't realize that until that person's gone.
There's a yearning for the Bulls to be that safety net again for the general public. When the weather's 45 degrees in May, like yesterday evening, and the Cubs and White Sox are under .500, while the team that bounced the full-season-choking Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks out of the playoffs won the NHL's Western Conference, this city rallied around the Bulls like it hadn't since 1996. Then, it was about Jordan's return for a full season and the hopeful rise to repeat dominance after disappointment.
In 2011, it was a hopeful rise to revive dominance, led by Chicago's son, Derrick Rose.
Even the casual Chicago basketball fan can tell you it's very difficult for this city to fill the void of the Bulls. And there's nothing like this city was during the Bulls' dynasty of the 1990s. Again, the city remained a Bears-Cubs type of town, but the Bulls kept you warm at night.
Choke city
To the die-hards, the rise to euphoria was so fast this season that the downfall couldn't have been faster, but it was. And in a city where "Wait 'til next year" is pejorative, there are fans with every bit of trauma from Thursday's Game 5 choke as the rest of Chicago's sports woes.
My reaction is to place that Game 5 choke and the series loss just under the Cubs in 2008 -- which is obviously surpassed by Josh Beckett's douchebag-assed punch-me-face, Alex Gonzalez's butterfingers, and Mark Prior's straitjacket of 2003. Finishing with the best record in the NBA, as that '08 Cubs bunch led the NL, and the Game 1 victory over the Heat putting a false sense of smug in the fans ranks below, but among, that feeling in '03.
[If you ever seriously entertained the Bears going to the Super Bowl this year or beating Peyton Manning Colts years ago, GTFO! with that nonsense.]
It's funny because, until they began to make a serious run at the #1 seed in the East, I never seriously entertained the thought of the Bulls even making the ECF. The whole season, to that point, felt like they were legitimately the third-best team in the East and only the Celtics and Heat could stop them, one of those teams would stop them, and the Bulls would beat neither in the playoffs.
But these Bulls dominated the NBA after the All-Star Break like no one else. The endpoint of falling is always the same. The pain is enhances from the height of euphoria from which you fell.
Not convinced Game 5 was a choke? Educate yo-self! (ESPN Stats/Info):

Including the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were 53-0 when leading by double-digits in the fourth quarter. So, with only 3:14 remaining in Game 5, and the Bulls leading by 12 points a win appeared all but certain. 
[...]
According to 10,000 simulations done by Accuscore.com, the Heat had just a 1 percent chance of winning the game with 3:14 remaining.
Now, I have ominous labor discussions that could go into the next NBA season after an inevitable offseason lockout by the owners and the Cubs.
How 'bout that Starlin Castro?!? That kid's somethin' special, huh?
Ugh. Go Mavs.
Advanced Stats via Hoopdata.

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