At the end of the day, you need stars to win games.
In the NBA, talent always prevails. Sure, you definitely need defense, rebounding and toughness. That much is clear, although if you want to contend for titles, the star power has to be there.
How’s this for some: LeBron James with 35 points. Chris Bosh with 22 points. Dwyane Wade with 14 points. It’s funny, because when was the last time a player who missed 11 shots for 14 points had a post-game presser?
The Bulls gave the Miami Heat a run for their money in a 101-93 overtime loss. But in the end, the Heat’s talent simply was too much to overcome.
Their series deficit, 3-1, is also going to be simply too much to overcome.
“It’s not over,” Derrick Rose said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
As much as you want to have faith in the league’s youngest Most Valuable Player, trust him with the duties of bringing the Bulls back from a deficit only three games have came back from in the Conference finals, it’s too hard at this point.
The Bulls had their chances to win Game 4. They really did, and that’s what makes it so disappointing.
The first half was one of runs, as the Bulls led 19-8 with three and a half minutes left in the first quarter before the Heat came right back to take a 39-28 lead thanks to a 29-9 run. For the first time in the series, the Bulls took a lead (46-44) into halftime.
Give credit to Joakim Noah on Tuesday. He dealt with a verbal altercation with a fan in Game 3, calling him a gay slur, and was fined $50,000 for it. He admitted he got what he deserved. It’s good for Noah, 26, to go through one more learning phase. Hopefully, he’ll be more smart next time, though you can’t blame Noah as it was in the heat of the moment.
He played his tail off in Game 4, grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds, six offensive, in nearly 45 minutes. With the Bulls’ rotation thrown off with Omer Asik being unable to play most of the game — he saw the floor for a brief moment before heading to the locker room — the Bulls had to rely on the three-headed tripod of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson in the frontcourt. Where was Kurt Thomas?
Noah clearly looked gassed in overtime, and with Gibson, zero points and grabbed one rebound in 10 minutes, ineffective, this was the perfect game for Tom Thibodeau to play Thomas. With the season on the line, why not? What’s to loss? He’s been ready all season to contribute — starting in Noah’s absence earlier this season, as the Bulls went 22-8 with Thomas at the starting five — so why not Tuesday?
One reason could be his lack of playing time lately, as he hasn’t played in three weeks. His rust could have been too much to overcome. Thibodeau knows his players best, although it would have been interesting to see what kind of impact Thomas would have had with his 15-footer to make the defense pay and hard-nosed defense.
We’ll never know. Still, the Bulls had chances to win.
“We made a lot of mistakes, costly turnovers,” Noah said.
The Bulls had 22 turnovers — in an Eastern Conference championship game nonetheless. Rose had seven of them, as he struggled throughout the game.
The game was really lost in regulation, when Rose missed a crucial free-throw and didn’t take advantage of two other chances to win the game outright.
With the Bulls trailing 85-84 with 1:09 left in the game, Rose went to the line for two free-throws. He split them, missing the first of two. After the Bulls got a stop — missed jumper from Wade — Rose had one more chance, and it looked good: he went with the step-back jumper on LeBron, and nearly made it as it went in-and-out.
It was that kind of night, luck and game from Rose.
Then, with 23 seconds left, the Heat had an opportunity to take the lead. But James turned it over as Ronnie Brewer took a charge, and the Bulls got yet another chance to win the game.
With eight seconds left in the game, the Bulls spread out the court and let Rose go one-on-one with LeBron, a matchup between two MVPs. The older one won the battle.
LeBron forced Rose into a terrible fading-away jumper from the right elbow — into overtime they went. Could Rose have drove to the paint? Sure. Although Rose’s crossover to set up the jumper got him a step on LeBron, but give LeBron credit, he was able to contest the shot and forced Rose to an air ball.
Rose failed. He’s the MVP for a reason, but give blame when it’s due. He got some decent help on Tuesday, receiving 20 each from Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, who also added 11 rebounds. It was good to see Boozer repeat his 26-point, 17-rebound effort in Game 3 with another 20 and 10 game, but compared to the Heat’s talent, the Bulls were no match.
And it starts at the top. LeBron, once again, outplayed Rose.
But he got some help in the fourth quarter, as Mike Miller played hero with nine of his 12 points coming in the fourth quarter, including a 5-0 personal run to get the Heat started.
Hero’s are formed in the postseason. Miller was one in the fourth quarter, as he hit plenty of big shots when the Heat needed them.
Even in overtime, the Bulls had a chance. They trailed 95-91 with 52 seconds left. All they needed is a stop to get right back in it. But LeBron’s been on a mission this postseason, that much is clear. He came through for the Heat once again on a tough jumper from the top of the key over an outstretched arm from Deng. It looked like LeBron may have traveled, though it didn’t matter. The referees, who were uneven the entire game, didn’t call it, and it went down in the books as your dagger, as the Heat went up 97-91 with 29 seconds left.
Maybe we had too high of expectations on Rose coming into the East’s finals. Maybe the spotlight, the pressure, the moment was too big for the 22-year-old. Hey, Kevin Durant’s going through some of the same in Oklahoma City right now, as the Thunder trail the Dallas Mavericks 3-1.
“We wanted to give him space to get to his spot,” Thibodeau said on the last shot of regulation. “He
missed. But listen: Derrick Rose, I wouldn’t want to have any other guy.
I’m with that guy all the way. He’s a great player and great
competitor. And I have great belief in him.”
Bulls fans should maintain belief in Rose. However, we’ve talked all season on his much-improved jumper, but where was it on Tuesday? Here’s your stat of the night: Rose went 2-for-14 outside of the paint.
Looks like Rose still has more work to do on his jumper.
The Bulls will have their work cut out for them, and it’s highly unlikely the Heat’s going to lose three games in a row. Speaking of which, the Bulls hadn’t lost three games in a row all season until Tuesday’s loss. Then again, they didn’t play these Miami Heat every night.
The Bulls seemed to be gassed late, though. It seemed to go downhill when Deng committed an unforced turnover on the inbounds pass with the Bulls down 93-89 in overtime. As Steve Kerr said on the telecast, fatigue leads to some mental, physical lapses.
Deng countered: “I don’t think it was fatigue. We just have to do a better
job. A lot of us haven’t been here, but it’s a matter of closing games.
That’s what we’ve been trying to do in the last three games. These last
two games, we haven’t been able to do that. There’s a lot to learn.”
Closing games. That starts with your best player, right? Does an MVP qualify for the ‘best player’ tag?
If so, Rose was the guy fit for the job in Game 4. The Bulls gave him three chances: he missed the free-throw in what was an overtime loss and two jumpers to put the Bulls ahead in regulation. As Deng said, the Bulls will have plenty of learning to do. How do you closeout a game? Who can hit the clutch shots when needed?
Rose did the latter all regular-season. Remember the one versus the Houston Rockets to send it into overtime? That’s just one example, though. In the playoffs, besides the 44-point Game 3 versus the Atlanta Hawks, can you think of a legit closeout game?
No, the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers don’t count. Clutch play in round one versus the Pacers doesn’t cement legacies. Clutch play in the Eastern Conference finals versus the star-laden Heat cements legacies.
In that aspect, Rose has plenty of learning to do. As do these Bulls, who looked gassed, blank and without answers in overtime leading to three turnovers in the five-minute period. And two came from Rose.