I knew it all along. I knew the Bulls had no shot to beat the Heat, not when Derrick Rose has teased everyone about his return and the Heat have played on an entirely different level this season.
But after tonight’s 88-65 embarrassment at the hands of Miami, all I can say for certain is this: The Bulls are done.
They were done a long time ago. No, it wasn’t when the Heat crushed the Bulls by 37 to tie the series in Game 2. It wasn’t when Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich both missed the last three games of their first round series against Brooklyn. No, it was over after their first playoff game last season on April 28, 2012.
On that fateful day, Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL late in Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series against Philadelphia. The former MVP would miss the next 8-12 months, meaning the Bulls would be without their All-Star point guard for most (if not all) of 2012-13.
Rose still has not played over a year later and all signs indicate that he will not return until 2013-14.
The Bulls continued to have issues with injuries this season, but to their credit, they still managed to finish 45-37 and grab the fifth seed in the East. They showed tremendous heart in their first-round series with Brooklyn, stealing Game 7 on the road for the first time in franchise history.
But the series victory also came at a cost: The already-depleted Bulls lost both Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng for likely the remainder of the playoffs, meaning the reserves would take on even more responsibility going forward.
As you would expect, they stepped up–initially. In Game 1 of the East semis against Miami, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, and Jimmy Butler combined for 58 points to help the Bulls stun the Heat 93-86.
While Tom Thibodeau’s squad was praised for their toughness and grit, it quickly became apparent that those attributes can only take a team so far. Without three key players, the reserves have been forced to play heavy minutes.
Possibly as a result of fatigue, the Bulls’ suffered their worst playoff loss in Game 2, falling 115-78. Back in Chicago for Game 3, the Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter of a chippy game that saw Nazr Mohammed getting ejected after shoving LeBron James to the floor.
Down 2-1 in the series, the Bulls hit rock bottom in Game 4. Not only was their 65-point output the lowest in franchise playoff history, they also had the worst shooting percentage of any playoff team since 2004 (25.7 percent). To top it off, they scored just nine points in the third quarter, marking the first time that they scored less than ten points during a quarter of a postseason game.
The series (and season) is set to come to a merciful end on Wednesday night in Miami, but there’s no doubt that the Bulls have fought admirably all year. Tom Thibodeau has taken this team as far as it could go, and he deserves credit for keeping the team together and fully utilizing his roster.
It’s painful to watch their season end like this, but there’s no getting around it now: The Bulls have simply run out of gas.