The Chicago Bulls -- without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, and, yes, Derrick Rose -- were a runaway train that veered off the rails this postseason. Despite losing its driving forces, it still hurtled onwards, breaking whatever was unfortunate enough to get in its way based on sheer momentum.
After the Bulls looked completely spent in a blowout loss Monday night, we can marvel at the damage they've done -- they eliminated the Nets in seven games and seriously flustered the Heat -- but we also have to acknowledge that we knew they'd stop lurching forward and would eventually turn into a giant useless metal heap.
We knew that the Bulls couldn't grit their way to a series win over the Miami Heat based on Joakim Noah's hustle, 48 minutes a night from Jimmy Butler and the brilliance of Nate Robinson, whose streakiness had somehow disappeared, replaced with a constantly "on" on switch. But it was fun to watch when they managed a Game 1 win and when they riled up the Heat with physicality and post-whistle antics in Games 2 and 3.
In Game 4, everything that had been vaguely successful disappeared. And although the series isn't over, its hard to imagine anything changing. They managed 65 points on 25.7 percent shooting, just 2-for-17 from beyond the arc. Only two teams have shot a lower percentage and scored less points than the Bulls did in playoff history. The superlatives are everywhere: the lowest points in Bulls playoff history, the fewest allowed in Heat playoff history and the nine points the Bulls managed in the third was their lowest of the season.
Robinson looked the part of a 5'9 journeyman who had often been criticized for his selfishness. His 0-for-12 outing was the second-worst in NBA playoffs history in terms of field goals attempted without a make. (Incidentally, the Heat's Ray Allen holds the record.) The Heat deserve some of the credit for his failure -- they trapped him hard at half-court, forcing him into four turnovers, and three of his attempts were blocked. But he also missed all five threes he took, including one airball. And the outrageous finishes he'd managed earlier weren't luckily spinning in. Thus, 0-for-12.
Tom Thibodeau didn't want to speak too badly about Robinson in his post-game presser:Nate had a tough game. Nate's a tough guy. He'll bounce back. He didn't make shots tonight, but he's a shot-maker.
Erik Spoelstra echoed the sentiment: "He's a tough guy to trap. We've been trying to get in a rhythm to corral him all series long. He's like a whirling top... Finally we had a couple of timely traps on him. Hopefully we can get some of those on Wednesday."
Others were better, but nobody was good. Rip Hamilton, who had only played in two playoff games -- he didn't even leave the bench in a 37-point loss in Game 2 -- managed 11 points, mainly in garbage time, and on 11 shots. Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli managed more points than shots attempted, but just barely. Carlos Boozer was equally as poor, connecting on only 3-of-14 shots.
The fever dream of Robinson and Marco Belinelli leading a team to victory with Marquis Teague playing crucial minutes was fun, but this is what a team missing its superstar point guard -- and also, his backup; also, their star small forward -- is supposed to look like.
Bulls fans can hold their head up high for the insane effort, but this is what happens to runaway trains when they lose their rails.
More comments from a disappointed Thibodeau:
"How you start games, readiness to play, preparation, that's critical. We have to do a much better job of getting ready. When that ball goes up, we've got to be at our best. Your defense and your rebounding, there's going to be nights you don't shoot it well. You've got to do other things. You can't allow the frustration of missed shots to take away from all the other things you can do to make your team win. You can push the ball, you can play with pace. You can play well without shooting well. We can bounce back, our entire team, we're capable of playing a lot better.
"I believe in this team. I think they've shown all year they have a tough mindset. We're all disappointed with the way we played tonight, we know they're good tonight."