Bulls 87 - HEAT 86 Recap

MIAMI – After losing, 87-86, another game in the closing seconds, this time to the Chicago Bulls, the Miami HEAT are left searching for answers. What’s not abundantly clear is whether any answers are readily available.

Not because they answers are so unsolvable, or the flaws too deep, but because it still isn’t clear what the questions are.

“I don’t think we’ve addressed the problem yet,” Chris Bosh said. “We have to find the problem first.”

Even tonight, the HEAT were excellent in the first half. Erik Spoelstra made the strategic shift of running the offense through Chris Bosh in the low post – rather than his usual role of high-post facilitator – when the bench units came out, and it paid off. Bosh scored 15 in the half, and everything else Miami’s offense does when playing well – cutting, passing, attacking – they did, with 11 assists on 18 field goals and nine fast-break points.

But the Bulls would have their chance, too, regardless of Miami’s consistent rotations, and when the HEAT had a spurt of turnovers in the middle of the third quarter, Chicago capitalized. Stars on either side made incredible plays over the course of the half, and the game was tied with just over a minute to play.

And thanks to an excellent from Mario Chalmers, including back-to-back buckets in the final minute, the HEAT led by two with 25 seconds to play.

In the playoffs, against a very, very good Chicago team, that is an acceptable scenario every single time out. The opponent has one possession to score, otherwise they risk going down two possessions with less than a full shot clock remaining. Teams win titles by putting themselves in those situations over and over again.

In this instance, the following happened: After a timeout, the Bulls try to get Derrick Rose the ball, but Dwyane Wade plays such tight defense that Chicago is unable to do so. The HEAT have now taken the ball out of the hands of their opponent’s best player. Now Luol Deng drives toward the middle from the left side, puts his head down and draws contact. The free throws are well-earned.

The first falls through. The second freebie, however, bounces off the rim. The loose ball bounces between a couple of players before winding up back in the hands of Deng, who is fouled in the fray. He hits a pair of free throws and Chicago goes up one with 15.9 to play.

Spoelstra draws up a play intending to get LeBron James mismatched with Joakim Noah, and it works. He uses up some clock, drives on Noah and misses a running hook with his left hand, a shot he has taken before and a shot he has made before.

“It just didn’t go down,” he said.

But Wade comes up with the board. There’s still time to shoot, so he does along the left baseline.

The HEAT lose.

“Every time its come down to the last play,” Bosh said. “It’s nothing huge, it’s just one simple small mistake.

“People don’t like saying it comes down to one play, but sometimes it does.”

Is that a sequence – losing one loose ball, committing two fouls and missing two shots – that defines a team? In a vacuum, hardly. But because the final minutes and result are so familiar, it is natural to lump every instance together to manifest The Problem.

That’s not any more correct than when, on December 18, the HEAT miraculously came back from five down with 32 seconds to play against the Washington Wizards. And because they were in the midst of a lengthy winning streak, on the second night of a back-to-back, the W trumped all the sloppy play of that night.

In baseball, as recently evidenced by the Cy Young win by Felix Hernandez, voters have looked beyond wins and losses and looked at the actual performances. If a pitcher in constantly going seven innings and giving up two runs or less, that’s an excellent evening regardless of the result. And even though basketball does not feature the separation between individual performances the way baseball does, it should be noted that regardless of the result against good teams, the HEAT keep putting themselves in the same situation.

“We’ve got to be stubborn enough to continue to put ourselves in that position,” Spoelstra said. “And be resilient enough to break through.”

Perhaps that’s the only answer the HEAT need for themselves – not whether they can continue to play tight games against good teams, but whether they can believe that eventually, especially with so many repetitions in the same situation, they’ll earn the breaks.

“There’s nothing else we can do but stay together and stay with us,” Spoelstra said.

“We stick together. We win together, we lose together,” Wade said.