I've recapped enough season-enders to know that it's kind of pointless. Soon after the final 3-point attempts from Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed and the season came to a close, thoughts aren't much towards the game that passed, instead more at the big-picture look to the future. Tributes and pleas to the likely-departed Nate Robinson pop up, salary spreadsheets are formulated, mock drafts are consumed.
But I took NOTES, damnit. And I plan on using them.
I didn't think any of the notes would be necessary a few minutes into the game, as the Bulls were riding their record-futility from the previous game into a really inauspicious start. After two airballs by Belinelli and Noah followed by a turnover, it was 6-0 Miami and Thibodeau was already taking a timeout. The early barrage from Miami got as bad as an 18 point Bulls deficit extremely early in this game, and especially given the fear going into this game I was not expecting much. Twitter had already just turned from 'analysis' and gone pretty much to all jokes.
But, as we know: these Bulls are way tougher than me. They quickly made a 12-4 run to make the score look respectable, and didn't stop for a long while. After that early deficit the Bulls finished the first half on a 49-25 run. According to ESPN's stats department, the Bulls turnaround in that half was unprecedented in the past 15 postseasons.
Shockingly enough, it started with Rip Hamilton coming into the game as the first guy off the bench. Nate Robinson picked up his 2nd foul (on a bad call) and Thibs went with a Belinelli-Hamilton backcourt for a few possessions before Nate re-entered for Marco. Rip was only 3-6 in his time in the half, but in under 20 minutes the Bulls were +20 against Miami with him on the court in that time.
The Bulls wound up with a 53-point half with damage coming from inside and out: their decisions in the pick and roll were made much quicker than in the previous games. Carlos Boozer was the lone early bright spot as he was scoring inside (!) off of dives to the basket and offensive rebounds. Booz had 5 offensive boards in the first half (and 9 in the game, including that final possession) which helped him score 19 on 7/9 shooting.
The Bulls were also shooting well from distance, going 5/7 from three with Jimmy Butler looking automatic off of the catch and his 2nd make finally getting the Bulls the lead in the second quarter. Nate Robinson also had a couple 3s along with a couple headscratchingly-good drives. Meanwhile, Miami's shooters were doing awfully, as only Chris Bosh had a couple of three-pointers while the combination of Battier/Chalmers/Allen had a combined 0-fer. Nate hit his second three after shaking Chalmers loose to end the half with his team up 6, was pumped up and yapping, and I figured the Heat would right their ship and punish these ragtag-ian reserves from Chicago for daring to stay with them on this night they were expected to easily advance.
Though LeBron started the second half with a pull-up 3, the Bulls did not relent one bit. Butler was hitting everything and was up to 19 points on the game, they were aggressive in getting in the penalty and forcing Bosh to sit with foul trouble, and had their rightful advantage on the offensive glass (finishing at over 36% ORR for the game). Hamilton had a three to give the Bulls a 10 point lead, Dwayne Wade was going back to the locker room trying to get his gimpy knee worked on, and the Bulls were ending the 3rd quarter with an even bigger lead than they entered it with.
But the Heat did shave 2 points off of that deficit before the 3rd was up, and it started a 15-4 run as the 4th got underway. The Heat small lineup once again exposed the Bulls as Battier finally hit a couple threes and was fouled on a third, getting rest for Noah was a short-lived proposition as both Boozer and Gibson could not rotate out to the three-point line.
As bad as it was seeing Battier start to heat up, it was made worse when series nemesis Norris Cole and all-time phony jerk-o Dwayne Wade really started to get control of this game for the Heat. Wade looked like absolute trash for much of the game to this point, his knee hobbling him to where he was 'forced' to resort to his usual 'tricks' to try and look like a competent player. I took great pleasure in him failing to convert easy opportunities and seeing Rip Hamilton (I know...) block him on a transition attempt.
But in the 4th, after a trip to the locker room that Eric Spoelstra told us was Wade 'tying his shoes' (hahahahaha::barf::), Wade looked physically better and that likely helped him mentally realize that Rip Hamilton was indeed guarding him: scoring two floaters in the lane, forcing a turnover, and a converting a dunk off of an offensive rebound putting the Heat up 7 with just over 2 minutes to go.
The Bulls made enough stops down the stretch to give themselves a chance, but as had happened in Game 3 they expended too much energy simply hanging close to the Heat. Miami didn't score a basket the rest of the game after that Wade dunk, but the Bulls couldn't do enough either, with Robinson visibly tired and Butler not scoring in the quarter. Though Boozer had one of their final two buckets he also had an open miss and couldn't secure a rebound which put the Bulls in a bigger hole. The Bulls had that chance to tie at the end after a great team stop of LeBron, but the Bulls were out of improbable heroics.
But I'm not out of notes:
- Probably should give more mention to the effort Butler gave defensively tonight. LeBron had some monster stretches and lived at the FT line, but holding the MVP to 5-14 shooting no matter the final efficiency is quite the feat. It was another playoff game where Butler played 48 minutes. Even more amazingly, he drew two fouls on LeBron in that first half.
- There were of course some fun extracurriculars in this final game of the latest chapter of this feud (Noah in a TNT interview shown mid-game: "I like Miami, but I really don't like The Heat"): Noah was called for a really flimsy technical foul early, the kind of call where you think the referee crew is trying to stop things before they start but it only made it worse. Boozer also had a technical, and there was a fun play in the 4th where Nate had a flagrant downgraded after review when it was shown that yeah, LeBron kinda flopped.
- I mentioned Allen's struggles and Wade's general invalidity as a human, but there are indeed reasons to doubt this Miami team as they get further in the playoff grind, right? Granted, they're still so talented (and they really do have more variety off the bench this year than previously with Cole and Andersen) maybe even the Pacers putting 'a scare' into them just means that series going 6.
- Noah had a relatively quiet game, just 3 points and 9 boards in over 40 minutes. He was 1-5 after going 1-6 the game prior, and maybe though his minutes load was back he finally did run out of steam a bit.