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The Outlet 3.19: The Indefatiga-Bulls Flame Out

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Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? We've consistently discovered there's no way for us to do that every night, but with the capsules done and Aaron back in the saddle as a more active managing editor, we're hoping that we can bring the feature back as a weekly Wednesday post. Sometimes Friday, like today. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short piece is as follows.

  • CHI at MIA: The Indefatiga-Bulls Flame Out (by Aaron McGuire)

Read on after the jump.

• • •

CHI/MIA: The Indefatiga-Bulls Flame Out
Aaron McGuire

With Chicago's unfortunate five-game ouster yesterday evening, three things were made absolute fact.

  • Derrick Rose will officially not be returning this season.
  • The Bulls -- despite winning the first game of the series -- were outscored by 66 points over their 5 game loss.
  • This terrible, god-awful season for Chicago has drawn to a close. The Bulls get a summer to recover.

The first point isn't really that important, even if we've been inundated with coverage to assert that it is. Derrick Rose is taking a little bit longer to come back than the world could've hoped, but it's hard to put together a strong argument that Rose should cow to his fans and media when it comes to his ACL recovery. Oh, sure, I've heard the spiel -- he's been "cleared to play" for months, it's all in his head, he owes it to his team, et cetera. Tom Ziller covered the "cleared to play" angle pretty well already, but I'll relay the cliffs notes -- Chicago's medical staff has a disturbing history of allowing players to see the court with grievous injuries they should've already caught. Rose's personal doctors may be saying something different, and there's scant reason to assume Rose is acting in bad faith here.

It may very well "all be in his head", but you can't just huff and puff and declare that a person should think the way you do. You can't just yell at Rose and have him suddenly stop having the hang-up in his head that's keeping him off the floor. He has to work through the blocks in his own head and find a way to get around it himself. And as for owing it to his team? Rose's contract is in large part insured -- the Bulls had to pay Rose less than $10 million due to the number of games he missed, and the insurance payout may have been the infusion that allowed Reinsdorf to pay the luxury tax. Rose practices with the team, and his teammates all seem to support him. I'm not sure what -- exactly -- he owes the team if he's not quite healthy and he needs a bit more time to get there. Perhaps I'm wrong, and I simply haven't heard the right arguments for why Rose's absence is a big deal. But when you peel back the overzealous reporting and overexposure, I feel that the Rose saga is a journalist-invented mountain designed of a tiny molehill.

What is more interesting -- at least to me -- is the second point. There was a lot of talk after Game 5 about how the Bulls made Chicago proud over the five game series and put up a strong challenge to the Miami Heat. Despite twisting and turning, I have trouble seeing it that way. The inclination to give the Bulls a wealth of credit for their performance this series is rooted in how the Bulls lost -- if there was any way for Chicago to maximize their best efforts and minimize their stinkers, this would be the way to do it. They opened the series with a shocking upset, something that set the basketball world abuzz and made for a week's worth of "Can They Beat The Heat" coverage. They closed the series with a gutty comeback and a brilliant defensive performance, at least for two and a half quarters -- the Bulls outscored Miami 73-45 from 5:24 left in the 1st to 1:05 left in the 3rd. They started strong and they closed strong, which is exactly what you'd want to do if you wanted to rewrite the book on how a series went. Because people forget about the middle. And in this case?

The middle was horrifying.

Really. The Bulls outscored Miami by 4 points over the first and fifth games combined -- Miami outscored the Bulls by 70 points over games 2 through 4. That's an average of 23 points per game. In game 2, Chicago was obliterated by 37 points. At one point, the Bulls gave Miami a 62-20 run. It was gruesome. Worst playoff loss in franchise history by a country mile -- their previous worst was 26 points, in 2007. Then, in Game 3, the Heat played completely terribly for an entire game and the Bulls simply found themselves completely unable to capitalize, losing the game by 10 against a seriously pathetic Miami performance that might not have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks. Then there was game 4, a pitiful performance that ended up being by far the worst offensive performance by a Chicago Bulls team in the NBA playoffs, losing by 23 points in a game where the were outshot from the floor 49% to 25%. The final margin could've been far worse, too, if the Bulls hadn't made a living at the line and forced a score of Miami turnovers.

Which leaves me with my take -- the Bulls started strong and closed strong, but the only way one could really assert that the Bulls had a "good" series against Miami is if they quite literally ignored the middle three games. As injured and snakebit as this Bulls team was, one can't quite ignore how embarrassingly lopsided the middle-matter of the series was, especially game 3. Even against the defending champs. Boozer and Noah dominated and Chicago's defense kept Miami in check for most of the night, with Miami's offense sputtering and their defense barely functioning. It didn't matter, though -- the Bulls lost by ten! Chicago's performances in game one and game five should give their fans hope. But the way the Bulls folded during those three games -- in a series they once led, and a series they had stolen home court advantage in -- was more than a bit depressing, and perhaps a tad embarrassing. It wasn't embarrassing for no reason, of course. The team was spent and ravaged by injuries, with naught but a skeleton crew on deck with their season on the brink. But it was a brutal series and it was a depressing series to watch. And bookending their horrible middle with two strong efforts doesn't erase the fact that the middle happened.

The Bulls are going home. The long national nightmare is over for our worldly Bulls fans, and their players are going to get a chance to recover. The 2013 Bulls had a lot of intriguing highs -- winning a game 7 in Brooklyn, snagging the five seed despite their myriad injuries, staying in the top-6 defenses despite their injuries, winning game 1 in Miami, and validating Thibodeau's system. But don't let the highs erase the lows. This team was incomplete, and they need to change some things going forward. For all of Thibodeau's strategic brilliance, Thibodeau needs to augment his system creativity with rotation creativity to keep his players healthy. The Bulls front office needs to find ways to beef up the team's depth. Derrick Rose needs to get his body in shape and eradicate his mental blocks. And the fans need a bit of time off from the constant drumbeat of injuries and insubstantial information.

Goodbye, Chicago. Here's hoping for a better 2014.

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Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

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