How you know it’s past your bedtime:
The young Bulls with 22-year-old MVP Derrick Rose played Miami even for all five games of the Eastern Conference finals, but the infamous Heat with two-time former MVP LeBron James out-finished them in four, the last Thursday’s 83-80 come-from-behind victory, and that’s all it takes in a best-of-seven series.
Leading by 12, 3:02 from sending the series back to Miami, the Bulls gulped, Miami finished on an 18-3 run and it was summer in Chicago.
James was asked if he saw the Bulls’ body language change at the end.
“No,” said James, “we just seen our body language change.”
Or maybe it just took until then to thaw out.
The shift from equatorial Miami to the Arctic wilds of Chicago, still waiting for spring as the wind-chill factor dropped into the 30s, seemed to leave frost on the Heat while the hardy local residents hardly noticed.
Metaphors aside, with Chicago’s defense, Miami’s shooters iced over even in South Florida, and with Dwyane Wade hiding a shoulder injury or just needing three quarters to get into games, the Heat is hardly unbeatable or dominating.
But toughness they’ve got.
Also, stars they’ve got.
James scored eight points in the last 2:06, including the three-pointer that tied it with 1:00 left and the 20-footer that put Miami up with 29 seconds left.
Then he blocked Rose’s three-pointer at the end, making his line 28 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.
So this is the guy who’s no good in the clutch, has a point guard mentality and what else did they say?
“The reality is great players — there’s a history of great players shining in those moments when the game is in balance,” said Miami Coach Erik Spoesltra.
“And all three of those guys [James, Wade and Chris Bosh] are special players. That’s why we recruited them so hard this summer....
“This game is a little bit emblematic of what we went through this season.
“There hasn’t been a lot that’s been normal or traditional. We’ve had to go through a lot of adversity and we had to go through the fire again tonight where a lot of it, the majority of the game, was not going our way.”
But then, who thought it would?
They were in the Bulls’ house, the so-called Madhouse on Madison, which is actually Son of Madhouse, across the street from the site of the old Chicago Stadium, rivaled only by the old Boston Garden in sheer blood-curdling decibels.
The United Center is more like Staples Center, but louder.
Making it louder still, the Bulls borrowed the guy who sings the national anthem for the NHL Blackhawks, whose booming operatic voice makes “The Star-Spangled Banner” sound like an F-14 flyover.
True to the script, the Bulls clawed into the lead, even with their high scorers, Rose and Luol Deng, in the process of shooting a combined 15 for 46.
But then, as is apt to happen when the Heat is around, greatness asserted itself with a vengeance.
Rose, who was great, or as great as you can be while being guarded by the entire opposing team and shooting 35%, missed a key free throw at the end, to go with the one he missed at the end of Game 4 and, as usual, took all the blame.
“It is what it is,” Rose said. “We ran the plays.... If my teammates were open, they would shoot the ball....
“At the end, I told you, it’s on me. Everything is on me.”
Too much was on him. but they can address that next season, assuming there is one.
As for the Heat, who walked through fire once more, whatever doesn’t consume you entirely makes you an NBA finalist.