Truth be told, the confidence of Bulls fans was already low even *before* Tuesday's soul crushing overtime loss to the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago's fanbase seemed shaken to the core after Game 3, when Chris Bosh turned in one of the finest performances of his career and Miami proved capable of stifling Chicago's fourth quarter offense once and forever.
Before Game 4, I shot out messages to a variety of friends, writers and fellow Bulls fans asking them to rank their confidence in Tuesday night's outcome on a scale of 1-10, with five counting as a 50-50 toss-up. The average settled at around four, and the pessimism was soon justified as the Bulls again fell apart in the final period and saw their series deficit grow to 3-1.
Said pessimism has grown from a steady grumble to a deafening roar in the hours that have followed Game 4. I advocated blocking out the noise in my critique yesterday, but that's of course easier said than done. What else are you supposed to watch/read/listen to during your office hours if not nonsense pertaining to the well-being of your favorite pro basketball team? Hard news? As if.
If you've turned on your television or read anything on the Internet in the last day, you know that most are already counting the Bulls as dead. It's easy to see why: Miami handed Tom Thibodeau's team three consecutive losses for the first time all season, and it appears our Bulls simply don't have the firepower to match wits with a Heat team that is seemingly peaking at the most opportune time. Perhaps it's the fan boy in my talking -- or maybe just a healthy amount of civic pride -- but I can't help but think the Bulls still have a puncher's chance in this series.
As I noted after Game 4, the Bulls and Heat have played seven times this season and six of those games could have gone either way, with Chicago's Game 1 blowout win serving as the only outlier. Discount the Bulls' regular season sweep if you must, as Miami has certainly found its footing since, but it only goes to prove that there isn't much separating these two teams. The Bulls can compete with the Heat, the Bulls can beat the Heat. If they can somehow overcome their developing night terrors and up-end Miami in front of a raucous United Center crowd tonight, the Bulls will have all the momentum. Blog-a-Bull explains:
At least that will be a home game...and if the Bulls win that one, there's the whole 'pressure' thing with the Heat not wanting to go to game 7, then the 'anything can happen in a game 7' thing. It's a story for any team with home court down 3-1, but rarely pulled off. And I think the most daunting aspect of it isn't the historical improbability, but the team they're trying to do it against.
Perhaps the idea of 'momentum' is overrated and/or negated when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sit across the court, but don't discount this team's love of underdog role. If nothing else, Chicago should feel like it's playing with house money the rest of the way. The world wrote them off after Game 4, and besides, this entire season has been a step or two ahead of schedule from the start. Miami is the team with championship-or-bust expectations; the Bulls are a rising franchise who's star player lifted them to heights no one could have predicted before this year started. Maybe the pre-season narrative goes out the window after 62 regular season wins and a host of individual honors, but the point remains: all of the pressure is on LeBron, Wade and the Heat from here on out. As of Tuesday night, the 2010-2011 Bulls are finished, long live the 2010-2011 Bulls. If this is what the universe can unanimously agree on, then Chicago finds itself squarely in 'nothing to lose' territory tonight. It's been proven that, at times, Miami and its best player can be less than poised with the spotlight shining its brightest. That will likely be the case if the Bulls can finally knock down some three-pointers tonight.
I'm not predicting Chicago to win this series, far from it. But after our worst fears came to fruition in Game 4, I advocate watching the action tonight at the United Center with less concern than the situation would normally call for. The Bulls are dead/finished/kaput, remember? Even if Miami blows Chicago out of the water tonight -- certainly possible -- it won't be nearly as painful as what we witnessed on Tuesday. At this point, Bulls fans are resigned to their fate. But hey, if Chicago can find a way to send this series back to Miami, we could be in for some real fun.
Banish those nerves and jettison your angst. If all is already lost, nothing worse can come.