For Game 4 against the Heat, the Bulls placed cards that said "Next Man Up" on every seat in the United Center. Technically this came to fruition as Richard Hamilton made a "triumphant" return to the lineup, but the Bulls' ragtag group was simply outmanned in an 88-65 loss. The Bulls are now on the brink of elimination, a fate that's likely all but sealed with Game 5 back in Miami on Wednesday.
It's hard to trash this short-handed Bulls group too much, as they have fought so damn hard all year long. But they were exceptionally awful tonight, and going against an aggressive Heat defense certainly didn't help matters. The Bulls shot just 25.7 percent for the game, and that along with their 65 points were a franchise playoff low. And looking through the box score just makes you want to gouge your eyes out.
Nate Robinson had his worst game of the season (maybe his career?), going 0-of-12 and committing four turnovers. Carlos Boozer was also laughably terrible, shooting 3-of-14, missing free throws and just being an embarrassingly bad basketball player for most of the night (except for his rebounding). Joakim Noah was a non-factor offensively, while Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli only had a few brief glimpses of competence.
LeBron James led the Heat with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, while Chris Bosh had 14 points. The Heat didn't even play that well offensively, going through much of the game on cruise control. But their stifling defense and the Bulls' inability to put any type of offense together made for an easy victory.
The 6 p.m. local tip was a killer for the Bulls, with the UC crowd as dead as a regular season game in February. The Bulls came out just as sleepy as the crowd, starting 1-of-12 from the field and coughing it up four times within the first six minutes. Belinelli bricked four wide open threes, which did provide opportunities for a bunch of offensive rebounds, but the Bulls were not really able to convert those second chance opportunities.
Bosh picked up right where he left off in Game 3, knocking down three long jumpers in the early going. Bosh added a couple of dunks and two blocks in the first quarter, and along with James, provided pretty much all of the offense for the Heat in the quarter.
Despite the shooting struggles that saw the Bulls go 0-of-8 from three, the Heat only led by six after one. That was a win considering just how poorly the Bulls played, but things started to get ugly early in the second quarter. The Heat knocked down a couple of open threes to open up a 13-point lead, and it could have been more considering they missed several wide open looks as well. Miami was getting whatever they wanted offensively, which will happen when facing the Bulls' current second unit.
Hamilton made his first appearance to a decent ovation, and he made his presence felt quickly with a foul and a bricked floater. However, he also did hit a three, bringing forth perhaps the loudest ovation of the night as the Bulls went on a little run when James went to the bench. Dwyane Wade continued to be absolutely worthless, and he tweaked his knee and hobbled to the bench in pain after missing a fadeaway jumper, although he would return to the game a few minutes later.
The Bulls were able to stay within striking distance thanks to some Heat complacency, especially from James, who committed several unforced turnovers. But the Bulls' offense was never able to capitalize, with the Heat traps and rotations making life difficult for a struggling unit. Boozer blew several opportunities to actually make the game competitive with a couple of open misses,
Kind of like the six-point deficit after one, the fact that the Bulls were only down 11 at the half was really nothing short of a miracle. The Bulls shot 26.8 percent overall and 1-of-11 from three while turning it over eight times. Meanwhile, the Heat were at 52.9 percent. The only thing keeping the Bulls relatively close were 11 offensive rebounds and the nine Heat turnovers, although Chicago didn't even do a good job taking advantage of that.
The Bulls continued to hang around at the outset of the second half, as the Heat made just one basket in the first 3:57 of the third quarter. Bosh helped the Bulls' cause with two missed free throws, and Mario Chalmers missed a few wide open threes. Belinelli made a few nice things happen with cuts off the ball to catch Wade sleeping, but that was about the extent of the positives.
Robinson continued to kill the Bulls with his inability to hit anything, whether it be an open jumper or numerous runners. It almost got comical at one point in the third when a bank shot rolled halfway down and out, a microcosm of Nate's nightmarish night.
The end of the third quarter devolved into something that didn't really resemble NBA basketball, as the Heat were dicking around while the Bulls could barely do anything that could count as a legitimate basketball play. The Bulls scored just nine points in the third quarter, and at one point I was just wondering why the Heat couldn't put us out of our misery. Norris Cole answered my call with a long three at the buzzer, sending the Heat into the final frame with a 61-42 lead.
The fourth quarter was merely a formality, and it was so bad for the Bulls that Marquis Teague tipped in a shot on the Heat's basket. Hamilton did hit another three, and almost hilariously, he finished with the third-highest point total on the team with 11.
I know the Bulls are on their last legs, but I did expect a much better performance tonight, although I wasn't necessarily expecting a win. I was hoping for this gritty group to provide one last thrill, but it wasn't meant to be. Perhaps they can still do that on Wednesday, but I just don't think they have it in them at this point.
I'd say this is a pretty good way to sum up the night: