(Photo credit: Ashley Wijangco – ARW photography)
I truly believed the Bulls could win Game 6. They had enough to do it, and they’ve proved it before, but that Bulls team didn’t show up for Game 6.
There’s a certain quality that teams need to play with when on the verge of elimination. There needs to be a sense of urgency and determination. The team needs to be hungry.
That was nowhere near how the Bulls played.
It was a close game to start, and that’s how I expected it to be. The Bulls weren’t about to start a blowout from the get-go. That already happened once, and with how they played since then, it certainly wasn’t going to happen again.
Then came that little run of theirs.
Joakim Noah fed Taj Gibson for a dunk. Noah made a pair of free throws. Derrick Rose hit Mike Dunleavy for a three-pointer, and suddenly, the Bulls had a 25-18 lead.
Things were looking up. It seemed like there truly was hope for the Bulls, and the effort was there.
But we all know that’s not how it turned out.
I started losing hope right before halftime, but it wasn’t all gone. Twenty-four minutes is still a lot of time, and I knew the Bulls could pull off a comeback in a half if they really worked at it. But that’s just it. They didn’t work at it.
Sure, both the Bulls and Cavaliers struggled immensely once the third quarter started, but the Bulls got the first shot. They could have used that to their advantage and built up momentum, but they didn’t.
I expected the Bulls to come out with an upbeat tempo and sense of aggression considering the fact they were down 58-44 in an elimination game, but they didn’t. They never did, and that’s the problem.
Looking back at my life, it’s difficult for me to remember many Bulls games before I started high school in 2009. And even during my freshman year, there’s not much I can really recall in a vivid image. But that all changed once Tom Thibodeau took over.
It’s at that time I took being a basketball fan more serious than I ever had. (It also helped that I could actually watch the majority of the Bulls’ games knowing that I had cable channels, but that’s besides the point.)
Thibodeau came in, and he was intense. In turn, his team needed to be that way, too, if they were to succeed. The Bulls would become known as this determined, defensive-minded team that the rest of the NBA would dread to face — even if they didn’t have their MVP in Derrick Rose.
It didn’t even matter whether the roster changed season-to-season. That mentality that came along with being on a Thibodeau-coached team stuck with whichever set of players came in for that season. And even when adversity struck the Bulls several times with the sidelining of Rose, there was still no quit in them.
I didn’t see an ounce of that mentality in the Bulls’s team that showed up Thursday night. I didn’t even recognize them.
I don't know what Bulls team I'm watching right now, but I certainly don't know who they are.
— Ashley Wijangco (@wijangco12) May 15, 2015
Not one of those Bulls seemed like they cared that elimination was less than an hour away, that their season was about to be over, that their championship hopes would be a failure, that their vacation was right around the corner.
Rose wasn’t being the quick, crafty and aggressive player I came to love. Jimmy Butler was settling for jumpers. Joakim Noah lacked his usual intensity, especially against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The only player I felt was possibly playing with a sense of urgency was Mike Dunleavy, and that’s just because he was driving to the hole much more often than he typically does.
Plenty of fans have voiced their opinions on the Bulls’ downfall on Twitter, and, to no one’s surprise, Thibodeau was a subject of criticism.
Why didn’t Thibs change the lineup sooner after seeing we couldn’t score? Thibs is definitely going to get fired after this.
I love Thibodeau. He’s a great coach, and I’m glad he has been the Bulls’ coach. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to critique him for his lack of making lineup changes when it seemed necessary. But that also doesn’t mean I’m putting the weight of the Bulls’ exit on him.
Regardless of whether this lineup or that lineup should have been in the game, one thing is for sure: if your coach trusts you to play in an elimination game, you better take advantage of that by playing your heart your heart out and giving it all you’ve got. There’s no excuse for you not to.
As I’ve mentioned plenty of times already, the Bulls just didn’t have that in Game 6, but there’s no excuse for that. They want a championship, and they saw that opportunity slipping away. Yet, they didn’t play like it.
It’s not Thibodeau’s fault his team played Game 6 just like it were some other regular season game that wasn’t worth fighting for anymore. That’s all on his players, and they’re much more at fault than Thibodeau.
I’m not even upset with the Cavaliers for winning Game 6, for winning the series. They did what they needed to do to stay alive in the playoffs. They stepped up when they needed to. (Who would’ve thought Matthew Dellevedova would step up and lead his team with 19 points?)
To be completely honest, the Bulls didn’t deserve to win the series — not with how they played in Game 6, on the verge of elimination. They certainly were capable of it, but that’s not the Bulls team that showed up.
It’s just a shame, really, to think that was possibly Thibodeau’s last game as the Bulls’ head coach, to think that this team — one with a former MVP make a comeback, the Most Improved Player and a former All-Star who was rejuvenated in Chicago— missed out on what could have potentially been a championship team.
But maybe that’s what the Bulls deserve after this, and maybe it’s the wakeup call they need for the future if they ever hope to get Banner No. 7.
Ashley is the owner/editor of The Bulls Charge. Follow her on Twitter at @wijangco12.