I had the feeling that for the Bulls to win, this one had to be a dominating performance, like in game one (remember THAT? seems like forever ago). Another close game against these guys and the same issues could crop up. It's been shown throughout the series that in a late and close game, the Heat are the ones who have the shotmakers, they're the ones who aren't rattled, both in looking composed and executing like it. The Bulls looked like the team who was too young and hadn't been that deep in the playoffs before. Which is technically true, but not something anticipated after seeing their resolve through a fantastic regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.
And with the Bulls chance at such a dominating performance being in their frontcourt, the lack of performance from Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer stands out. In matchups they were counted on to not only win, but do so convincingly, they combined for 10 points on 10 shots, and only 2 offensive rebounds. The offense just was crippled at times by both: there were plays where the Bulls expertly beat a Rose trap only to see Boozer unable to convert the open finish. Or when Noah would get too ambitious late in the clock and force one of his running pseudo-hooks. And while winning the offensive rebound margin, it was by not nearly enough.
And in the biggest indictment of their performance is that they didn't even play the last 14 minutes of the game, with Thibodeau going instead with Taj Gibson and Kurt Thomas. Thomas was the feel-good story of the night, for someone who hadn't played in over 20 days to come in and have an impact was delightfully unexpected. It was only two field goals in 18 minutes, but he did have 4 offensive rebounds (8 total) in that time and helped the Bulls come up with several big extra possessions in the 4th.
But you have to question Thibodeau's decision to 'ride the hot hand' in this case. Thomas was (not unexpectedly) tiring at the end. And as much as everyone loves Taj, his combined output in the last 2 games (over 33 minutes) was zero points. And there's also the underlying issue of sitting one of your best players and team leaders in the deciding game of the season, and you have to feel awful imagining what Noah was going through being forced to watch his team collapse.
With Thibs going with an ultra-defensive (Rose/Brewer/Deng/Taj/Thomas) lineup and already starting to hold the ball with over 5 minutes to play, the message was clear that they were hoping to simply try and prevent the Heat from scoring and hang on to that lead for dear life. Instead, behind some remarkable shots from James and Wade, the Heat went on an 18-3 run in 3 minutes and in that process took the lead for good.
Derrick Rose, even moreso than in the series in general, was the only true scoring threat. He hit a huge shot with under 2 minutes left. But after that, his miserable series ended on the most sour note possible. A foul on a 3-point making Wade, a turnover, then on the next offensive try drawing the foul but missing the 2nd free throw. The final possession where he forced a 3 (always an issue with this team when they're down 3, having so few shooters and all) wasn't even finished before the collapse seemed already complete, a shellshocked feeling that went from the court to everyone observing it.
That collapse does start with Rose, as he's their best player and the ball is always in his hands. But Thibodeau did him no favors with saddling him with that lineup and running out of timeouts to do offense/defense switches, or simply being able to advance the ball and run a play on that final possession. Though to that last point, we likely wouldn't have seen a 'play' anyway, and instead just Rose in isolation. It's something that can work, and has worked plenty of times all season, but also something that the Heat have two guys who are better at.
The Bulls defense more than matched what the Heat could do, but Miami's late-game shotmakers have favorable size, range, and experience to convert those opportunities even against an extremely tough defense. Rose can certainly improve on the latter two things, and at 22 and with his innate drive, we should expect him to. But more importantly, and beyond the difference between each team's stars, what this series told us is that the Bulls have to improve their overall offense next season. One can point to a possession here and there where the Bulls make this more competitive, but in taking a step back it's clear that after game one the Bulls offense went completely anemic. It's what needs to be addressed most: both internally by coach Thibs, and from the Org. in tweaking this roster in the coming offseason.
Yup, the offseason's here.