The Chicago Bulls put the Miami Heat out of their misery Thursday night. -- possibly for good. Now, Miami faces the likely possibility of missing the playoffs for just the second time in Dwyane Wade's 13-year career.
The Heat surrendered a 19-point halftime lead in about 10 minutes, only scoring two points in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Miami players looked shell-shocked during the Bulls' assault. After Pau Gasol tied the game with a layup, Mike Dunleavy and Aaron Brooks nailed consecutive 3-pointers. Miami didn't know how to respond.
The fourth quarter started with jumpers from Dunleavy and Brooks before Joakim Noah found Taj Gibson for an alley-oop dunk.
The Bulls had a 71-59 lead with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. Miami never got within eight points, as Chicago ended up winning 89-78. Miami fell to 35-44 on the season, now a game-and-a-half behind the eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets. A loss Saturday to the Toronto Raptors could eliminate the Heat from playoff contention.
It's sad to say, but Miami hasn't played like a team that deserves to make the playoffs. The Heat's monumental collapse tonight shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The Heat held a 16-point lead with 9:53 left in a March 24 game against the Milwaukee Bucks before an abysmal fourth quarter led to a one-point loss. That was back when Miami had a legitimate chance to grab the sixth seed.
Then Miami had an 11-point lead with 3:33 left in Detroit April 4. What ensued to end that game? An late avalanche from the Pistons gets the team out of playoff contention a one-point victory against a team fighting to get into the playoffs.
And this? This was even worse. This Heat team just looked at each other and shrugged as the Bulls shredded them on both ends of the floor. Miami showed no mental toughness to respond to Chicago. Dwyane Wade kept on rifling off ill-advised, contested jumpers and finished 4-of-20 from the field. Luol Deng was 3-of-13 from the field. Mario Chalmers missed five of his six shot attempts.
Miami's only bright spots were a spurt from Michael Beasley in the second quarter -- including back-to-back corner 3s -- and Hassan Whiteside finishing with 19 points and 16 boards. In the fourth quarter, the Heat went to Whiteside down low for some easy baskets. He delivered. Where was this in the third quarter, when the Bulls out-scored Miami 33-8? Miami needed some high-percentage shots then. Where was Beasley in the third quarter when Miami still had a lead?
Derrick Rose returned to action Thursday, but the Bulls didn't even need him to finish the job once he came out midway through the third quarter. Rose made two consecutive baskets to bring Chicago to within six points, and then Aaron Brooks and others did the rest. Rose struggled in the first half, but began to heat up in the third. Miami couldn't even respond to get Tom Thibodeau to think about playing Rose a bit in the fourth quarter in his first game back.
True, Miami is not mathematically out of the playoff race. But Miami has only shown the grit of a playoff contender intermittently this season. And even in the East, that's likely not going to be enough. And besides, does any Heat fan want to watch this team suffer through a four-game sweep?