by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
This was supposed to be a big game for the Chicago Bulls. Sitting two-and-a-half games back of Toronto who’d lost to the Utah Jazz the night before, this was an opportunity for Chicago to gain some ground on the Raptors in their attempt to take over the 8th and final seed in the playoffs.
It was also Latin Night at the United Center and the Bulls were wearing their road red “Los Bulls” uni’s. To top it all off, it was a nationally televised Thursday night game on TNT with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and the one and only Charles Barkley in attendance to call the game. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night for basketball. That is until the ball went up.
Vinny Del Negro downplayed the importance of the game and tried to keep everything in perspective. “They’re all big games. Is this a bigger game than New Jersey on Saturday? We have to win. We’re looking up at the standings right now.” While I certainly understand the importance of keeping your emotions in check in sports, when a game is as big for the Bulls as last night’s contest was, sometimes you have to treat it that way. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the Bulls didn’t seem to have that big game intensity once they took the floor and as a result received the most vicious of beatdowns.
Miami jumped all over Chicago from the word ‘go’ and the game was literally over after the first quarter.
The name “Heat” on their jerseys was the perfect description for their shooting. Miami went 12-21 (57 percent) from the field in the first quarter while the Bulls shot a horrible 7-23 (30 percent). That would be the theme the entire night. Everything that Miami put up went in and the Bulls couldn’t make a shot even if nobody was guarding them.
The second quarter was the same story. Miami shot lights out (14-22 from the field, 64 percent) and Chicago couldn’t hit anything (5-20 from the field, 25 percent). By halftime the Bulls were down 30 points and Miami shot a blistering 61 percent from the field to the Bulls’ 28 percent. It was so bad that a lot of us were either paying more attention to the NCAA tournament game that was going on or debating if this would be the worst loss the Bulls have taken all season.
The lone highlight of the night came on an amazing put-back dunk by James Johnson in the third quarter. He was up so high when he dunked it that he almost put his forearm in the rim a la Vince Carter. He certainly could have if he wanted to. Still, that play only cut the Miami lead to 30 points and with about a minute left in the third, the Bulls found themselves down by 39.
The final score of the game was 103-74 and afterwards, the Bulls locker room cleared out faster than I’d ever seen and many of the players, including Derrick Rose, left without addressing the media. A dejected Joakim Noah did address the media after the game and said, “We were mediocre all around the court. We’re better than that.” Vinny Del Negro echoed the same sentiment. “We did not have enough fight in us tonight. We beat each other up more in practice than we did [Miami] tonight. That’s the frustrating part.”
Said Jermaine O’Neal after the game on the Bulls lack of effort, “We were a little shocked. We talked about it a little bit on the bench. Especially with all of the conversation that was kind of here in the papers and stuff like that [about] their struggles and the importance of the game for them.”
In another homecoming for Chicago native Dwyane Wade, he had a very quiet night offensively (12 points on 5-7shooting) and was more facilitator (10 assists in the game, 9 in the first half) than scorer. After the game he said that it was all a part of his plan. “I was laying in the bed today wondering why I don’t play as good here like I play other places on the road. I think I play too fast here and today I decided to come out and play like I normally play. I wanted to have a lot of patience, come out early and get my teammates involved, and then go for mine and that’s what I did. But by the time I looked up we had a big lead and I was able to get a lot of rest.”
The best way to describe the Bulls play of late is to compare it to the recent weather in Chicago. After quite a few days of gloom, we strung together consecutive days of really nice weather last week. Just like the Bulls who last week finally broke their 10 game losing streak and actually won two games straight.
The Bulls got Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah back and it seemed as if the team was ready to make one last push towards the playoffs and the energy around the team was very high. Just like the weather, people got out and enjoyed themselves and it seemed as if the winter weather had finally broken and we were finally in full spring mode. Then it snowed.
You get the picture.