It had to have been a surreal feeling for Derrick Rose as he stepped to the foul line Thursday night. His Bulls down two with 26 seconds left in the game, 26 seconds left in his season.
Four years ago he stepped to the line as a member of the Memphis University Tigers, up two on the eventual National Champions, the Kansas Jayhawks. He would miss the first, making it only a three point game. The Jayhawks would come down the floor and Mario Chalmers (a member of the Miami Heat today) hit a miracle shot to force overtime; KU would dominate the period.
No harm done, Rose was the 1st overall selection to his hometown Chicago Bulls: winning Rookie of the Year his first year, leading his team to the playoffs in his second, and winning NBA MVP in his third. Not bad.
One wonders if Thursday night his mind wandered back to his last game in college, to those free throws he’ll never forget. At the line in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, trying to hold his team together after another epic collapse (an 18-3 run in the last three minutes by the Heat left the city of Chicago in shock) Rose made the first.
As the 24,000 strong at the United Center breathed a collective sigh of relief, the second free throw was the one the mattered most. A tie game with 26 to go is anyone’s contest, down one means you have to foul and hope the veteran Heat miss some free throws.
The second shot rimmed out, the Heat came down with the rebound, and walking down to the other end after a foul call Rose looked up in disbelief (Not again…).
Chris Bosh would hit both free throws and push the lead to three. A badly executed final play would be a fitting microcosm of the Bulls series with the Heat. Rose caught the ball near the half court line, took a few dribbles and immediately got trapped by Bosh and James. He gave up the ball and raced around frantically trying to get it back. As time ticked down under ten seconds the crowd grew audibly anxious, with groans and murmurs from the Bulls faithful.
Rose got the ball back with less than five seconds to go, still being double teamed; he stepped to the three-point arc and rose to shoot. LeBron rose with him. The block that ensued sucked the life out of the building, ended the Bulls season, and started the celebration in South Beach.
“I do think experience helps,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “Tonight, we had the lead and we couldn’t hold onto it…I think you use this experience to drive you so you can improve for next year.”
For a young team that no one expected to finish near the top of the league, Chicago surpassed all expectations. The question now, after a humbling series against Miami, how do they improve enough to beat the Heat?
“At the end, it’s all me,” Rose said during his post-game interview. “Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. The series is over.”
It was all Rose, all season. This team will need to make some changes, not just improvements from within, but roster changes (adding one or two solid scorers around Rose) to compete with the Heat and the “Big 3”.
But for now the best medicine for Rose and the Bulls is for them to watch the Finals, watch the tape of the Heat series over and over. Get mad, get hungry, and go to work during the summer. Like Oklahoma City against the Mavericks we saw a young team, overachieve and lose to a veteran-laden squad in a close-fought series. Both the Thunder, and these Bulls will be back.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of battles with those guys. They have a great young core, great veterans, a fantastic coach. We’re going to be spending every summer thinking about the Bulls.” Chris Bosh said after Game 5, giving the Bulls credit for everything they’ve accomplished and this budding rivalry.
Only one team gets to celebrate at the end of the season. For now, the Bulls will be on the outside looking in. Learning experience? Sure. Something to build off of? Absolutely. Satisfied? Far from it.
Go do it Derrick.
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.