So many players were atrocious for the Bulls tonight: neither Gordon, Hinrich, or Deng played well. Ben Wallace was barely noticeable.
Things were so bad that even the one player that had a good statline I didn't want to see out on the court, and that was Nocioni
Why? Seeing Nocioni out there for 28 minutes makes me think that nothing has changed. The Bulls went 19-7 from the All-Star break until tonight, and a lot of it was because of the emergence of Tyrus Thomas. Tonight, Tyrus got 13 minutes, and sat the entire second half except for a garbage minute or two at the end.
Losing the 2nd seed isn't the worst part about tonight. They could've picked up that 50th win at any point this season, and they instead fall one game short. But I was more incensed over how they lost the game what what it may mean for the playoffs. Playing the guys that limit what the team can do: Having Duhon guard Vince Carter on several stretches in the game. Nocioni and Brown in a frontcourt tandem that's ripe for getting outboarded. Even a re-appearance of the 3-guard lineup!
Granted, if the starters didn't play so terribly then Skiles wouldn't have even had the opportunity to give so many minutes to Nocioni and Duhon (22). But when that group did get the Bulls to pull even at the end of the 3rd quarter, I thought it'd be a perfect time to go back to the, ahem, better players and try and close the game out. Instead Skiles kept the same team out there, and they gave up 35 4th quarter points. Wallace made a brief appearance, and as I mentioned earlier Thomas was only on the court after the game was decided.
As a result, the Bulls have backed their way into a rematch of last season's playoffs, and it's the same old guys who lost those playoffs who have me nervous. I think the Bulls have made so much progress since that time, and a lot of that has to do with the new additions. They've made the Bulls better, and Miami is worse. Couple that with home court advantage, and the Bulls should be the favorites.
But a game like tonight makes me worry it'll be the same type of series and the same result.
The tough road ahead is a blessing in a big picture sense...beating up on Washington or Orlando (can I even say it would've happened with Jersey after tonight?) wouldn't have told us as much about this group as a series against Miami or Detroit will. At least we can find out how much progress this team has really made since last year, and not just how much better of a season they've had.
Bring on James Posey and the Heat, I'll have much more 'what it all means' stuff in the coming days.