For the second time in three years, the Chicago Bulls lose to the Miami Heat in a playoff series, both of them lasting only 5 games. Yet with so many injuries to begin with, from Derrick Rose to Luol Deng and finishing with Kirk Hinrich, the effort, heart, sacrifice and ability that Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson have shown in this postseason is nothing but commendable.
Tom Thibodeau had to function without a point guard for so long. Kirk Hinrich can’t give what Derrick Rose can, but at least he enforces some sort of playing style that doesn’t involve complete improvising, spot up shots and actual, intended ball movement. Nate Robinson wasn’t supposed to be a starter, and even the first option off the bench. But it turned out he was the only one capable of creating shots for himself, and for a while, including the first game of the series, it was the best the Bulls had to offer.
Rip Hamilton, another player completely forgotten remembered to wake up in the final game of the series, showing that clutch ability that was so recognizable during his finer years with the Detroit Pistons. Hamilton scored 15 points on 6 for 12 shooting in game 5, as the Bulls pushed the Heat to the limit before finally surrendering in the fourth quarter. They won one game and made a big test of it for two more. That’s all you could have asked for such a depleted team, while its starting center, best passer and defensive personality wasn’t at 100% as well.
Joakim Noah let his emotions get to him, but that’s the kind of guy he is. Energy all the way. He hit only one field goal, scoring 3 points on 20% from the field, but his defense held the team together during its impressive runs in the first and second quarters, and his fouls on LeBron James, none of them being flagrant, made it so he had to try and win the game from the line instead of having his way on the open court.
Carlos Boozer did most of his work in the first half, but was shut down in the second. His defensive decencies were shown once again. It’s not that he doesn’t try, but after more than a decade in the NBA, he’s not going to learn where to position himself all of a sudden. He more than made up for it with his scoring, putting down 26 points and adding nine offensive rebounds (total of 14), playing the way a lot of people don’t understand why he doesn’t play like almost every night. But I guess the motivation and motor aren’t there all the time. Just once in a while.
Jimmy Butler has to be the most pleasant surprise the Bulls stumbled upon this season. Replacing Luol Deng in the lineup, he ended up playing 48 minutes on five of the Bulls’ last seven games in the playoffs. He did an excellent job on LeBron James, averaging “only” 23.6 points on 43.8% from the field in the series against the Bulls, thanks first of all to Butler. On offense, the second year player scored 19 points as he took his final bow for the season, averaging 15.6 in the series and showing the Bulls have a fantastic two-way player for years to come.
Nate Robinson wasn’t the X-factor, but he was certainly something special. A rare phenomenon in the league – a 5’9 player who sometimes commands the defense attention as if he is one of the biggest superstars alive, he forgot all about his 0-12 night and scored 21 points, hitting four three pointers. It’s impossible to measure his heart and courage every time he’s out there, even if the fact that he is the starting point guard speaks volumes on how badly beaten up the Bulls are reaching the final hurdle of the season.
Another missed season? Thibodeau made the most of an impossible situation. The Bulls couldn’t have gotten more unless they had a bit more luck with the draw. No offense, or at least no planned offense, gets you only this far. It’s now about planning for the future, and hoping a year of taking it easy gives them the Derrick Rose of old, making them title contenders again.