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Playoff Box Score: Bulls Collapse Ends Season

By Benjy Lipsman in News on May 27, 2011 2:20PM

Watching the Bulls fall apart in Games two through four against Miami were painful. Last night's collapse was like a swift kick in the nuts. Despite holding a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to play, the Bulls still lost to the Heat 83-80 in front of a stunned United Center crowd. With the loss, the Bulls season ends while the Heat continue to the NBA Finals where they will face Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks.

With the series on the line, the Bulls came out looking like they intended to spend the weekend in Miami. While the Heat grabbed an early lead, the Bulls outscored Miami by four in the first quarter paced by Derrick Rose's 10 points and Luol Deng's nine. The Bulls' "bench mob" played extensive minutes in the second quarter and stretched the lead to seven points by halftime - the largest locker room lead by either team in any game of the series.

The Bulls built a 13-point advantage in the third quarter before a Carlos Boozer flagrant foul on LeBron James seemed to fire up the Heat. By the end of the quarter the Bulls advantage had been trimmed to five. For a while, it looked like the Bulls would overcome their tendency of late to wilt down the stretch. A three pointer by Rose, a couple baskets from Kurt Thomas during his first minutes of play in the series and six points from Ronnie Brewer helped the Bulls pull ahead by double digits midway through the final frame, and build that 12-point lead with just three minutes to play. At that point, it looks as though the Bulls had the game in hand.

James and Dwyane Wade had other plans. Miami's two superstars led an 18-3 run over the game's final three minutes. James scored nine during the run including a pair of three pointers, while Wade added seven and Chris Bosh hit two free throws to close out the scoring. In the blink of an eye, they erased that 12-point lead and ended the Bulls' season with an epic collapse. A Rose desperation three to tie in the game's final seconds came up short. With an 83-80 victory, Miami moves on.

Speaking from the podium following the game, the Bulls star and league MVP Rose took the blame, "At the end, it's on me. Everything is on me. Turnovers. Missed shots. Fouls. If anything, learn from it. That's all I can do right now." Rose scored a team-high 25 points, but shot just nine of 29 from the field. The usually steady Deng also had an off night from the field, connecting on just six of 17 shots, while scoring 18. Ronnie Brewer was the only other Bull in double figures with 10. Boozer disappeared entirely, scoring just five points and grabbing six boards. Meanwhile, Miami's big three of James, Wade and bosh contributed 28, 21 and 20 respectively.

The entire organization has a lot to learn from this series. After a blowout win in game one, the Heat regrouped and the Bulls flailed. They played scared, shot poorly and struggled at inopportune times. They were in each of the games until the final minutes thanks to their stellar defense, but then collapsed because of offensive troubles each time. Tom Thibodeau, the league's coach of the year, was out-coached. Did he rely too much on the starters in game four? Why did we not see Kurt Thomas until late in game five? Should Taj Gibson have received more of Carlos Boozer's minutes throughout the series? Could somebody other than Rose have attempted the final shots?

Maybe those would have had an impact and shifted the tone of the series. But what's most evident is that the Bulls still need another scorer who can create his own shots. This is a young team and the nucleus should remain in tact for a while. Rose, only 22, would just be graduating college if he stayed four years. The Bulls getting as far as they did puts them ahead of schedule. Chicago is an attractive spot for a free agent to land, and the Bulls have draft picks and valuable bench players who could be swapped for another scoring option. Miami may have won this battle, but we expect a rematch next May.