Chicago’s 101-93 loss to Miami in Game 4 left the Bulls in a 3-1 deficit, but in the minds of many Chicagoans who watched the Bulls’ third consecutive loss the series is already over.
The Bulls’ second-half offensive struggles continued to be their major weakness as the Heat exposes Chicago’s lack of a consistent second and third scoring option. Their defense was solid throughout most of the game, but Miami’s three main scoring threats – especially LeBron James – took over down the stretch. James had 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime compared to Derrick Rose, who had only six, including zero in overtime.
Chicago’s offense was in rhythm early as Rose pushed the pace and the Bulls got some easy transition buckets. They didn’t settle for jumpers and possessed an early 10-0 lead over Miami in points in the paint. Luol Deng hit a couple of threes in the second quarter and the Bulls had a 48-46 lead at the half.
Most people were still optimistic, but noted the importance of a victory.
“I want to have faith in [Chicago], but the Heat are getting them pretty well,” said Valerie Sefton, 20, who was part of a contingent of Bulls fans watching the game at in Glenview. “I would say my confidence is 73 percent.”
“They’re going to put a lot of effort and they have to win for Chicago,” added Konstantina Dinaletsos, 26, at halftime. “They better win or else it’s over. If they lose this game, it’s over.”
More fans continued to fill Meier’s Tavern and the Bulls play picked up. Their defense forced Miami into mostly jump shots early in the third quarter and Deng and Boozer were more involved at the offensive end. Thanks to a three-pointer from Rose, Chicago held a 68-63 lead to end the third quarter.
But early in the fourth quarter, things started to quiet down. Mike Miller knocked down a three-pointer and a long jumper to give Miami a 70-69 lead. A couple steins were slammed on the bar tables at Meier’s and you could tell pessimism was creeping in.
The Bulls started 0-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter before Noah’s slam dunk elicited a few claps around the bar.
Chicago continued to trade buckets with Miami, but Rose was becoming a non-factor. Miami switched LeBron onto Rose and the two-time MVP’s length and quickness bothered the shorter and smaller Rose. LeBron’s defense showed on the Bulls’ last two possessions when he forced Rose into two tough fade-away jumpers, the last one of which didn’t draw rim.
“They’ll lose,” Anthony Matas, 44 said before the start of overtime. “LeBron’s going to take over. He’s the best player in the league.”
Sure enough, that’s what happened. The Bulls struggled to generate points and the Heat looked like the fresher, faster team. Derrick Rose played 49 of 53 minutes and it showed in the fourth quarter and overtime. He had a couple of costly turnovers and after Dwyane Wade made a driving layup to put the Heat up six points, the Meier’s Tavern crowd turned silent.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Bulls are left searching for answers to a number of questions. The ones they thought they had figured out after their Game 1 blowout victory.
How do they generate offense down the stretch? How are they going to stop LeBron James on the pick-and-roll late in ballgames? And how can they get more out of their bench, which was so strong in the regular season?
For a number of fans, that answer is waiting next season, not next game.
“We got away with being a one-dimensional team all year long and now crunch time we go against a team that has two or three guys that they can give the ball to and we’re kind of limited,” Will Wright, 56, said.
Still, many recognize that this team is young. They weren’t supposed to win a championship this year and their window of opportunity is open for the next five season with the hope of re-signing Rose and already having Deng, Noah and Boozer under contract. People have been making comparisons to the Michael Jordan’s championship Bulls teams all season, but this one might fit best.
“This reminds me of the Bulls’ run back when I was younger when [Chicago] won its first championship,” Wright said. “We would always lose to Detroit. They’re going to mature after this, we’re going to have to get another ballplayer and maybe next year we’ll be able to win the Eastern Conference.”