The Chicago Bulls had the best regular-season record in the NBA, an MVP in Derrick Rose and the coach of the year in Tom Thibodeau. Now they'll have a long summer after a crushing defeat that ended their season in the Eastern Conference finals.
Chicago blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter Thursday night, falling apart when they appeared on their way to victory and losing 83-80. It's a setback that will no doubt linger throughout the offseason.
"Just learn from it," Rose said quietly afterward. "We'll get closer as a team, get better, and all we can do now is work on our games this summer. ... If anything, it made me hungry."
The Bulls won the opener of the series in convincing fashion, but then couldn't find their way in the latter stages of the next four games. Nothing could sting more than losing on their home floor in the fashion they did Thursday night.
Rose fouled fellow Chicago native Dywane Wade on a 3-pointer and after the Heat guard sank the free throw with a minute and a half left, the four-point play was the fuel Miami needed to complete the remarkable rally.
A 3-pointer by LeBron James tied it and then his jumper gave Miami a two-point lead.
Rose, who scored 25 but shot only 9 for 29, then missed the second of two free throws. Chris Bosh's two free throws put the Heat up three and all Chicago could get was an off-balance 3-point attempt by Rose in the closing seconds.
The Bulls shot just 35.8 percent for the game and managed only 18 fourth-quarter points. Rose, guarded by James, was 2 for 9 in the final period when the Bulls went 6 for 18 as a team.
It looked like the Bulls would get a big lift from veteran 38-year-old center-forward Kurt Thomas, who had four points and seven rebounds in the final quarter of his first game in three weeks. Ronnie Brewer's 3-pointer after a nice shovel pass from Thomas put Chicago up 76-64 with 3:53 left.
The Bulls were still ahead 77-65 with 3:14 to go when Brewer made 1 of 2 free throws. But then James and Wade took over and the Bulls couldn't respond in the clutch.
"It is what it is. They're a good defensive team," Rose said. "They were playing tough defense. At the end it's on me. Everything is on me _ turnvoers, missed shots, fouls. Anything, learn from it. All I can do right now. The series is over."
Chicago won 62 games this season and was 3-0 against the Heat in the regular season. The Bulls finished 42-8 at the United Center, including the playoffs, with two of those losses to the Heat in this series.