What else can you say? This one hurts. A lot.
It hurts for many reasons, not the least of which was LeBron James owning the matchup between he and the Bulls precocious star, Derrick Rose. James scored 35 points, carried his team on offense and shut down Rose on the other end as no other player has this year.
Rose's line of 23 points on 8-27 shooting, six assists and seven turnovers says a lot about the MVP's effectiveness in the Bulls' 101-93 loss in overtime to the Heat. Once James was assigned to Rose, the MVP could no longer see over the top of the defense and couldn't get past James to get to the rim. Time and again, he was forced into the teeth of the Miami defense and wasn't able to see the open man in the game's final minutes.
it's more disappointing because the Bulls played a hell of a game tonight, all around the roster. Joakim Noah, after a tough Game 3 and a tougher day of self-induced media scrutiny, played an inspired 45 minutes on the inside, finishing with six points, 15 rebounds (six offensive) and six assists. He still couldn't finish on offense, but he was a force on defense the entire night -- sometimes even guarding LeBron one-on-one on the perimeter. Carlos Boozer also came to play, and although he had his fair share of dummy plays on defense, I can't fault the man tonight. In nearly 50 minutes on the floor, he had 20 points, 11 rebounds and only one turnover. For the first time in forever, he finished inside and even got to the foul line a team-high nine times. Luol Deng was huge as always with 20 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks, playing with the consistency we've come to expect every time he takes the floor. The Bulls tried to go to Deng in overtime when LeBron matched up on Rose, but Dwyane Wade, who was a non-factor for large stretches, bodied up Deng and frankly, looked fresher. The Bulls lacked that much-discussed third option on the perimeter, although Ronnie Brewer did fill in admirably with a big three pointer and two crucial free throws down the stretch.
Worse still was the fact that Miami got a big boost from Mike Miller, who had scored seven points total in the playoffs before erupting (relatively) for 12 points and nine rebounds. Every time a Miller shot went in I died a little inside. He and Udonis Haslem have filled out the Miami roster to the point of negating Chicago's greatest advantage, and with Omer Asik re-aggravating his lower leg injury in the first half, you have to say the depth matchup is a near-wash.
But still, the bummer of all is that the loss falls at the feet of Rose. I know he needs more help on offense. I know the Bulls lack a two-way shooting guard. But that doesn't change the fact that the league's MVP got an advanced lesson in playoff basketball tonight from LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Rose went 1-8 in the fourth quarter and overtime with six points and two assists. James had 13 points and two assists during the same stretch, and was about as unstoppable as they come. Rose had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation after Brewer drew an offensive foul on James with :08 seconds left on the clock. Thibodeau called an isolation for Rose, who drove, deked, and tried to shoot over the top of LeBron, who played Rose perfectly and made him put more air under a tough fall away jumper that clanged harmlessly off the front iron.
There's an old NBA adage that says you need to have your heart broken before you can earn a championship. The hope all along had been that Rose would break the mold at only 22 years of age. But as the rest of the Bulls have elevated their games as this series has gone on, Rose has slumped against his greatest challenge yet. And maybe that's just how the league works: Before you climb the mountain you need to get knocked down first. If you don't believe me, ask Kevin Durant how he's feeling today. Or how Dirk Nowitzki felt in 2006. Or LeBron himself, for that matter, after being humbled time and again in the NBA playoffs before this year. I too hate that he went to Miami to vouch for a title, but it's hard to deny he's had to pay his playoff dues over the years.
Still, this isn't a swan song and there's no telling how the rest of this series will play out, as Tom Thibodeau and the culture he has created ensures that the Bulls will give everything they have until the final buzzer of the final game of the season. A return to the United Center is sure to help, and after being treated to excellence all year, perhaps the United Center crowd will return the favor and lift up their team as its season hangs by a thread.
Eight times in NBA history has a team come back from a 3-1 series deficit, most recently when the 2006 Suns defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. Now more than ever, Thibs' mantra of one game at a time -- correct the mistakes, learn, grow, have a great practice, have a great shootaround and be ready for the first quarter -- will insulate his team against the talk to come. The Bulls need to win one at home to extend their season, and to do it they'll have to forget the night their MVP was out-dueled by a more experienced one.