The Bulls bandwagon suddenly became full. Heads were turned. All of a sudden, the Bulls became the favorite to win. Confidence was skyrocketing in Bulls nation.
Then Game 2 calmed the storm in Chicago. Game 3 caused a panic attack.
Game 4 definitely feels like a must-win for the Bulls. But note that I said “feels,” not “is” a must-win.
If the Bulls lose, then Game 5 becomes the true definition of a must-win since they would face elimination.
But enough of the negative talk. It’s obvious that there is a sense of urgency for the Bulls.
Simple math: The series is best out of seven. Bulls are down 2-1 and counting them out after two straight loses is a mistake that many made early in the series after Game 1—that the Bulls defense will beat the Heat.
But the reality at that point was this: One down, three to go. People seemed to forget that.
Understandable. They were caught in the moment. LeBron James was held to only 15 points after knocking about 30-plus in his last two games against Boston. Dwyane Wade was rejected and posterized in one night.
And from the words of Wade, the world did seem to be better because the Heat lost.
But when Miami matched the same defensive intensity in the next two games, offense became the new story, and Chicago’s poor outside shooting and missed free throws began to truly sting.
Keep in mind, though, that the Bulls never lost more than two consecutive games during the regular season. Though this is different because it is the playoffs and they have to face the same team that they just lost to, the Bulls are a smart bunch. Thibs has probably bugged his eyes out watching hours of film.
They know what adjustments they need to make on defense. They know they need to pick up the pace on the offensive end. Luol Deng and Kyle Korver need to find their shooting touch. They know they have it in them.
Derrick Rose’s presence has gone unnoticed and he feels it. He knows he needs to make a statement that he is the MVP of the league.
In Chicago’s first series against Indiana, Rose came through in the fourth quarter. In the past, he’s proven that he can take over games. He talks about having the will to win. He talks about trusting his teammates to be there for him when his driving lane is taken away. He talks about learning from his mistakes.
Back in December, against the Clippers, Rose missed the game-tying free throw with 0.8 seconds left, and the Bulls lost.
After the game, Rose said: “I thought I was going to hit them. That's basketball. I hope I get put in that position again. I know I'm not going to miss it.”
Flash forward to March when the Bulls played the Pacers. Rose found himself in the exact same situation, except he was shooting three instead of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left. He needed to make all to send the game into overtime.
From the line, he looked poised and confident. All three shots were perfect swishes. After that, I knew Rose wasn’t just talk.
In this series, he wasn’t afraid to admit that the Heat wanted the game more after four tight quarters. He said that the Bulls just didn’t have the will.
So when push comes to shove in Game 4, how exciting would it be to see Rose’s heart tested?
Doubts are already flying that the Bulls can’t overcome a 2-1 deficit. 2-1 isn’t 3-1, where the odds are higher. Only eight teams overcame a 3-1 deficit.
From a 41-41 team last season to the best record in the NBA this season, the Bulls have defied the odds. They did so by flying under the radar. They did so with no silly rally to celebrate themselves.
They did so with none of that free-agency conspiracy.
They did so by building a team with fundamental units that complement each other. They did so with a hard-nosed coach who didn't care that people called him a workaholic. They did so with a quiet superstar who patiently waited for the NBA nation to know his name.
It’s not easy pinpointing one thing that went wrong for the Bulls in Games 2 and 3. Furthermore, it wasn’t easy pinpointing one thing that went right for the Bulls in Game 1. Taj Gibson was having a blast in Game 1, but so was the rest of the Bulls bench.
Rose rebounded from a sub-par first half, apologized to his teammates, and finished the night with 28 points and six assists. Luol Deng contained LeBron. Noah had 14 rebounds. Carlos Boozer added nine. The Bulls out-rebounded the Heat.
Stat-wise, in Game 2, there really wasn’t much of a difference between the two. James did score 29, but the difference-maker was Udonis Haslem. Game 3, the Bulls were right in it—though it did feel like they were chasing for most of the game—but the difference-maker was Chris Bosh.
There always seems to be one X-factor for the Heat.
I asked one of my acquaintances who is a sportswriter on the Chicago Tribune why he doubts the Bulls, and he said because of the “Big-Three.”
It took one player to have a big night and win each game in the series for the Heat. For the Bulls, it takes a collective effort.
Kyle Korver has taken some blame for not stepping up. Boozer has taken blame for not playing defense. Rose has taken blame for not playing up to expectations.
In the end, everyone needs to step up and Game 1 is an example of what happens when every Bull on the roster plays his role.
Red flags were raised about the Bulls going deep in the playoffs. Throughout the entire series against the Pacers, the Bulls basically erased double-digit deficits with fourth-quarter comebacks. They lost the first game against the Hawks, but won the series in six.
And they beat the Heat 3-0 during the regular season. They beat the Heat on a night when Wade carried his team without James by scoring 33 and when James and Wade combined for 63. Meanwhile, Bosh was blaming Omer Asik for spraining his ankle and then flopping on Boozer’s elbow that glazed his nose like a feather.
The Bulls sent the Heat crying to their locker rooms. Remember that.
The Bulls overcame adversity on Miami's home court during the regular season.
Don’t count the Bulls out just yet.
If what it comes down to is an offensive spark, don't count out Korver's clutch hand. Don't count out Luol Deng and Gibson's consistency. Boozer seems to have found his touch in the playoffs. And don't count Rose out just yet.
This Bulls team trusts each other, and I’m sure they want their fans to trust them too.
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