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Eastern Conference Semifinals:
Top-seeded Heat defeat Bulls 4-1

Game 5 | Bulls season ends with Game 5 loss in Miami

Heat 94, Bulls 91 | 05.15.2013 | Miami wins series 4-1

Sam Smith: The 2012-13 season probably had to finish like it did for the Bulls Wednesday in a series closing 94-91 loss to the Miami Heat, impressive in their resolve and refusal to yield against long odds while an if only and a coulda and shoulda away from yet another improbable victory.

The Bulls made Miami sweat again. They would make it no day at the beach for LeBron James and the defending NBA champions. But the Bulls would once again spend the summer receiving praise for only being almost good enough.

“I’m proud of my guys,” said Carlos Boozer, who had a big finish with 26 points and 14 rebounds, including nine offensive, three more than the entire Miami team, and a last one with 14.9 seconds left to give the Bulls one final shot at a tie that went awry.

“We’re a tough group,” said Boozer. “We faced adversity all season and had no excuses. We didn’t cry about nothing. We had guys hurt; we played through injury. There are warriors on this team. The three years we’ve been together we haven’t been healthy in a playoff run. If we are we could be scary.”

Perhaps that’s what this season was all about in the wake of the opening day of the playoffs just over a year ago when Derrick Rose suffered a catastrophic knee injury and would be lost well into the season. It turned out to be for the entire season, and both coach Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah said after Wednesday’s loss that Rose had done the right thing in sitting out.

“Definitely, it was hard,” Noah with three points and nine rebounds said about Rose’s absence. “As a player, you want him to come back.

“At the same time,” added Noah, “You understand the big picture. I’m really proud of him, actually, because I think he’s dealt with it great. All the pressure coming from a lot of people, the way he handled it was great. If I was his brother or a family member, from that perspective he did the right thing.”

Added Thibodeau: “He has to keep working. I think he’s in a good place mentally. We were going to make a mistake on the side of caution. So we feel good about where he is. He’s got the whole summer to build more confidence and that’s the important thing. As we said when he first had surgery, we were not going to rush him back. We held to that. I think it was the smart decision.”

So then what sort of season could it be? And then both Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng would miss the entire conference semifinals against Miami with illness and complications from that and injury in what would be the first four-game losing streak for the team since the 2011 conference finals against these same Heat, another 4-1 playoff series defeat.

The Bulls won 45 games, went on the road to win a first round seventh game in the playoffs in Brooklyn, and then played the defending champions as tough as they always have, a win in Miami, a narrow loss in Chicago and another one in Game 5 despite falling behind by 18 points less than seven minutes into Wednesday’s game.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Also: Rose working out to the conclusion
Bulls ready to take another shot at doubters

Bulls prepare for potential elimination game in Miami

Sam Smith: Don’t believe me. NBA history says this Bulls season is about to end. Eight times in NBA history a team trailing 3-1 in the playoffs, as the Bulls are to the Miami Heat with Game 5 in Miami Wednesday, has come back to win a seven game series.

That’s in the 194 times teams have trailed 3-1, making it a four percent chance.

No, it gets worse. Only twice among the eight times has the team that came back done so on the road, which the Bulls would have to do in winning two of the next three. So that would make it about a one percent chance. I know. As long as there’s a breath.

Those two teams that came back to win without home court advantage, by the way, went on to win the NBA title, the 1968 Boston Celtics an the 1995 Houston Rockets.

Which means no team in NBA history has ever come back on the road from trailing 3-1 and then failed to win the NBA title.

So it’s not great odds facing a fractured Bulls team coming into Miami after three consecutive losses in which they’ve been outscored by an average of more than 20 per game... continue reading.

Game 4 | Miami takes 3-1 lead with one sided 88-65 win

Heat 88, Bulls 65 | 05.13.2013 | Miami leads series 3-1

Sam Smith: Why us? Why now? Why again? You heard it in their voices, if not always the words Monday when the Bulls lost 88-65 to the Miami Heat in probably the team’s worst ever playoff performance.

If the sentiment was determined afterward about going to Miami Wednesday to bring back to Chicago the series, now 3-1 in favor of the Heat, it also seemed tinged with resignation.

This plucky little engine of a basketball team had climbed and climbed and climbed that NBA mountain to the point it was becoming an inspiration as much as playing force, that the way the Bulls players were overcoming so many obstacles was transcending the game and teaching life lessons.

But eventually the realities of competition and talent overtake resolve. And no matter how badly you want something and how hard you try, you generally have to be better and have the troops as much as the motivation.

And the Bulls once again, like in 2011 when Omer Asik went down early in the conference finals, in 2012 when Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah went down in the first round and this season with Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out, face their own Waterloo.

“It’s been happening for the last four years,” sighed Taj Gibson. “We always have a good shot. But there’s always this bug that hits us late. It’s frustrating. We always had a good shot. We still have a great shot. But we always seem to end up having guys injured.

“We’re always undermanned and have to put forth a lot of energy to make up for bodies we don’t have,” Gibson went on, shaking his head. “Tonight we just didn’t have the energy. No excuses. We just did not have it.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Tom Thibodeau meets the media prior to Game 4 (05.13.2013):

Bulls expect series’ physical nature to continue

Blogs.Bulls.com: Joakim Noah is among those who expect the physical nature of Chicago’s Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Miami Heat to continue when the teams meet for Game 4 at the United Center on Monday night.

But he takes it a step further, saying it’s essential for the Bulls, who trail 2-1, to succeed.

“It’s our only chance,” Noah said following practice on Sunday at the Berto Center.

“I think it’s very normal,” Noah added. “You look at playoff basketball, it’s always physical. You look at every series, it’s physical. It’s just when you have somebody like LeBron James coming at you full speed, yeah, there’s a lot of contact. It’s just part of the game.”

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, who has taken the lead on slowing down the NBA MVP this series while playing the full 48 minutes in two of the first three contests, agreed that the physical tone of the series isn’t about to head in a different direction.

“I feel like that’s what it’s been from the very beginning and I don’t expect it to change,” said Butler. “We’re coming in and we want to be the aggressor.”

It’s a style that the Bulls not only need to embrace, but it’s one in which they say they’re comfortable adopting as their own... continue reading.

Tom Thibodeau meets the media after practice (05.12.2013):

Joakim Noah on the physical nature of the series (05.12.2013):

Jimmy Butler looks ahead to Monday's Game 4 (05.12.2013):

Game 3 | Bulls fall behind Heat 2-1 in conference semifinal

Heat 104, Bulls 94 | 05.10.2013 | Miami leads series 2-1

Sam Smith: The narrative from the Bulls’ side in Friday’s 104-94 Miami Heat victory that gave them a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal is going to be a star driven inequity that is making winning more difficult for the Bulls.

“I see how things are going,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau offered cryptically after Miami broke from a 77-77 game after three quarters to pull away in the last four minutes. “I watch very closely; I watch very closely. What I’m seeing is… we’ll adjust accordingly. When you play this team you have to have a lot of mental, physical, and emotional toughness. Things are not going to go your way. What it is. We’re not going to get calls. That’s the reality. We’ve still got to find a way to get it done. And we will.”

That, obviously, has to come Monday in the United Center. Or the Bulls go back to Miami trailing 3-1 and hardly in position to continue this series.

But to even the series again for the Bulls it has to be more than a change in the tenor or manner of official judgment.

The Heat shot 50 percent from the field after 60 percent in Game 2. As commendably unyielding as the Bulls’ effort has been, the Bulls defense has not been very good.

Plus, the Bulls got beat up on the boards for the second consecutive game, and by Chris Bosh of all people. Miami outrebounded the Bulls Friday 39-37 with Bosh getting 20 points and 19 rebounds.

“If CB (Bosh) rebounds like that we’re a dangerous team,” said LeBron James, who had 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including a strong, driving three-point play that clinched the win with 1:23 left. “For him to have 19 rebounds and for Norris (Cole with 18 points) to come off the bench and defend like he did and contribute offensively with a big time drive in the fourth and a big time three as well, those two guys are the reason we won the game.”

James is right. The Bulls, with primarily Jimmy Butler, held James is check as well as you can as he also had eight rebounds and seven assists, but wasn’t much of a force most of the game. And Dwyane Wade was almost invisible, finishing with 10 points, out of position constantly on defense, throwing the ball away numerous times. You do that you have your best shot against Miami.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Deng-less Bulls preparing for Game 3

Sam Smith: If the Bulls have a slogan for this season, it might be, “Don’t mind me, I’m just over here bleeding.”

The Bulls trudged back to Chicago for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday against the Miami Heat in the United Center as perhaps the least euphoric team to have taken away home court advantage.

That maybe was less than the 115-768 blowout loss in Miami Wednesday, though that did get their attention, as well as a half dozen technical fouls and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson ejected. But as the Bulls prepared for Friday’s game, the reality of their quest remained vivid as Luol Deng eased out to meet reporters for the first time since his meningitis scare, spinal tap and hospitalization. And it hardly seemed he was ready to play as it appeared he still was working on walking.

“I’m ok,” Deng said with an exaggerated cough as reporters gently queries about his health. “I’ll be ok. I tried to shoot a little bit and I struggled. I couldn’t do it well. We’ll see. It’s really my first day out of the house and out of the hospital. I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do. I haven’t done anything. It really sucks.”

It hardly sounded like Deng or Kirk Hinrich, the latter who has been getting more tests on his injured leg, would play Friday and it wouldn’t seem Monday in Game 4. Derrick Rose? He doesn’t appear to be coming through that door, either... continue reading.

Audio—Chicago's Tom Thibodeau meets the media before Game 3 (05.10.2013):

Audio—Heat's Erik Spoelstra talks prior to Miami’s shootaround at the UC (05.10.2013):

Audio—Miami’s Chris Bosh meets the media on morning of Game 3 (05.10.2013):

Game 2 | Miami turns up heat to even series at 1-1

Heat 115, Bulls 78 | 05.08.2013 | Series tied 1-1

Sam Smith: The Miami Heat came out in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday against the Bulls like they often do, posing and preening like they are at a fashion show, offended anyone would dare challenge them, whining and complaining about the temerity of the Bulls taking a 1-0 lead.

By Wednesday, it was obvious the beaten up Bulls had gotten their attention, and the Heat’s dominating 115-78 victory—the Bulls worst losing playoff margin in franchise history and the Heat’s largest winning margin—devolved into a sordid evening of anger, frustration and retribution with 51 personal fouls, nine technical fouls and Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah ejected.

That’s how you get ready for playoff basketball.

There was a Udonis Haslem shot knocking down Nate Robinson 12 seconds into the game. Marco Belinelli wrapped up Dwyane Wade nine seconds later on a runout and Wade drew a technical for throwing the ball at Belinelli. LeBron James swung an elbow at Noah late in the quarter with about 11 seconds left as Noah tried to wrap him up. Noah then started face guarding James on the inbounds pass. It really was just beginning. Chris Andersen cross body blocked Belinelli out of bounds, drawing a flagrant foul and Mario Chalmers got a technical foul for grabbing Noah around the neck and then the two began yelling at one another. Noah got tangled and fell with Shane Battier, who laid an extra elbow into Noah in pretending to brace himself to get up.

It also boiled over for the Bulls in a game in which the seemingly overmatched officiating crew that really was the NBA’s version of the 12th man of officials apparently blew a goaltending call against Anderson and Noah, and then Gibson offered their view of how lead official Scott Foster had handled everything. Both were ejected with Gibson being led off spewing a stream of profanities that likely will draw him a fine.

“This is the playoffs. It’s part of basketball,” said Carlos Boozer. “(If) you feel like you’re being cheated you’re going to say something about it. Regardless, we don’t put the blame on anyone else. We’ll play better and move on.”

Quite the opening act for Game 3 in Chicago.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Deng improving but out as Bulls prepare for Game 2

Blogs.Bulls.com: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reported Luol Deng will not rejoin the team until they are back in Chicago, meaning the All-Star small forward will miss Wednesday’s Game 2 in Miami. However, Thibodeau wouldn’t rule Deng out for Game 3 on Friday at the United Center.

“Day-to-day,” said Thibodeau of Deng as the Bulls took the court at AmericanAirlines Arena for shootaround on Wednesday morning. “So he’s improving. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.”

Kirk Hinrich, meanwhile, continues to work towards returning from a left calf injury. The Bulls met for a film session on Tuesday after which Hinrich received treatment and continued his rehab.

Thibodeau did not divulge many specifics on the outlook for the possibility of Hinrich playing in Game 2.

“He was a little better yesterday; we’ll see where he is today,” said Thibodeau. “We’ll see. The swelling’s down, which is good. He tried (to play) the last game in the Brooklyn series and he wasn’t quite there, so we just have to wait and see. Hopefully, he continues to improve.”

Though the Bulls are coming off a stunning Game 1 victory over the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Heat, Thibodeau sees plenty of room for improvement, specifically on the defensive end of the floor... continue reading.

Audio—Tom Thibodeau talks with reporters at Bulls shootaround (05.08.2013):

The Butler is doing it for the Bulls

Sam Smith: It seemed to Jimmy Butler that life in the NBA was his life all over again, ignored and rejected as a child back in Texas, overlooked by all the big basketball schools when he so much wanted to play, secondary at Marquette as a backup role player when he arrived and then watching, watching, watching all the time even as Bulls teammates went down all around him to the point that with even Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah out in last year’s playoffs Butler still could get in for just three minutes the entire six games.

He badgered his buddy Ronnie Brewer, his small forward position guide, Luol Deng, the coach he worked with, Adrian Griffin. He knew the plays, he worked as hard as anyone. The team needed him. He was sure.

Keep working, Butler was told. Be patient. Go to summer league. Learn your craft, the league, your job. Your time will come. It seemed to him he was being ignored again.

But not anymore, just like always. Jimmy’s time would come.

It has, and Butler isn’t overlooked anymore, not the way he stayed with LeBron James for all 48 minutes Monday and led both teams in rebounding with 14 and added 21 points and two of four three pointers in the Bulls 93-86 Game 1 playoff win over the defending champion Miami Heat... continue reading.

Noah putting his best foot forward

Blogs.Bulls.com: Just one night before the NBA Playoffs got underway, Bulls center Joakim Noah had serious doubt whether or not he’d be able to play.

Plagued by plantar fasciitis down the stretch, Noah rested for most of the final month of the regular season to alleviate the pain. When he returned to play limited minutes in the Bulls’ final two games, it was obvious he was still far from his best and hampered by the injury.

So as the Bulls prepared to face the Brooklyn Nets, Noah began coming to grips with a scenario in which his season could have been over.

“The night before the Brooklyn series, he said he didn’t think he was going to be able to play,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Tuesday.

What was once a game-by-game storyline with a constant watch on his time on the court has all but become a distant memory now, with Noah no longer even listed on the team’s injury report. And the timing couldn’t be better, as Noah recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 39 minutes of action as the Bulls shocked the Miami Heat in the opening game of their second round series on Monday.

“He’s found something that works, he’s feeling a lot better, and obviously that’s huge for our team,” stated Thibodeau, who met reporters at the team hotel following a film session.

Thibodeau also said that both Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich are day-to-day with Game 2 on Wednesday in Miami. Deng has been dealing with ill effects following a spinal tap and though he’s not with the team, he is out of the hospital and improving, Thibodeau reported.

“He’s feeling a little better, but he’s going to be home probably for another day,” Thibodeau stated. “We haven’t decided yet [when Deng will join the team]. We’re trying to weigh whether it’s better for him to start doing activity back home.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau meets the media in Miami (05.07.2013):

Bulls center Joakim Noah on Chicago’s Game 1 victory (05.07.2013):

Game 1 | Bulls surprise Miami for 1-0 series lead

Bulls 93, Heat 86 | 05.06.2013 | Chicago leads series 1-0

Box score | Discuss the game | Blogs.Bulls.com

Sam Smith: Sure, the Miami Heat had that long layoff after sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, and they missed several wide open shots early in the game, and LeBron James picked up his Most Valuable Player award in a ceremony with commissioner David Stern before the game and Chris Bosh was reported missing to the Miami police and there was a big manhunt.

OK, not exactly the last part. But the defending NBA champion Heat have plenty of reasons to look at the Bulls Game 1 Eastern Conference semifinals 93-86 victory Monday and say they’ll get ‘em next time. Or maybe not.

Because the Bulls, now 9-8 against Miami in the last three years, pounded Miami once again on the boards, 46-32. The Bulls dominated in second chance points, 17-8. They had 40 inside points to 32 to the Heat.

Yes, Jimmy Butler was terrific in the absence of Luol Deng, playing all 48 minutes for the third consecutive game, the fourth player to do so in the last 35 years. And with an amazing line of 21 points and 14 rebounds, including nine of 10 from the free throw line.

Nate Robinson, who according to ESPN stats actually leads all players in the league in fourth quarter playoff scoring, led everyone with 27 points, including 24 in the second half after he took 10 stitches in the lip from a hard fall fighting for a loose ball with James.

Joakim Noah battled through foul trouble for 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Taj Gibson was strong off the bench with a dozen points.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Bulls underdogs yet again for Game 1

Sam Smith: There have been tougher games to win for the Bulls against the Miami Heat than Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

There was the one when the team was late and Benny and the Elevators had to match up with the 1986 Celtics. And there was the time Shaler Halimon and Kennedy McIntosh took on Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

“We have more than enough to get it done,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was saying at the Bulls’ Monday morning shootaround practice. “That’s what we have to do.”

You tend to doubt Thibodeau less the way the shorthanded Bulls endured in the seventh game to defeat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs.

But this is the Miami Heat, the team with the league’s best record, the defending champions, on a streak of 41 wins in their last 43 games, having been resting for more than a week since sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs and with LeBron James getting his MVP award in the expectant likely throbbing arena before Game 1 begins.

That’s it?

Oh, there’s Luol Deng still back in Chicago with the after effects of his virus and spinal tap over meningitis fears... continue reading.

Bulls shootaround prior to Game 1 in Miami

Bulls and Heat ready to resume their feud Monday

Sam Smith: I don’t think the Bulls can beat the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals, but anyone makes a mistake discounting what the Bulls can accomplish no matter how great the odds.

“We’re excited for the challenge of playing against the best team,” Joakim Noah was saying late Saturday night amid the intoxicating aroma of Game 7 victory in Brooklyn.

It was a terrific win, one of the best in Bulls franchise history given the circumstances of being the first ever in a playoff seventh game on the road and without so many regulars. But that was a fourth place Nets team apparently anxious to fire its coach, which it did Sunday, and led by a lethargic leader, Deron Williams, who couldn’t have seemed more bored and disinterested in comments afterward, as if the season was an annoyance in the way of picking up his checks.

Noah paused and you could almost see his mind racing at the possibilities after his magnificent 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, five against All-Star Brook Lopez. LeBron James again, no one giving the Bulls a chance with perhaps Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich out again along with Derrick Rose, the national voices dismissing them as so many did against the Nets after the Game 6 home loss. Yes, that’s a delicious setting.

A widening gap toothed smile began to spread across Noah’s face.

“We’ll see what happens,” he finally said with a mischievous grin... continue reading.

More from Sam Smith:
Bulls/Heat matchups for Eastern semifinals | A look at the 2-2 season split between Bulls/Heat

First Round: (5) Bulls defeat (4) Brooklyn Nets 4-3