MIAMI -- After all the years and all the battles the Chicago Bulls have had against the Miami Heat, Joakim Noah -- the emotional heart and soul of the Bulls -- can't believe his team folded the way it did in the second half of Sunday afternoon's lackluster loss. His frustration was palpable as he sat in the quiet visitor's locker room. His team was outscored 25-12 in the third quarter after being tied at the half, but what disappointed him most was that he felt as if some of his teammates weren't playing as hard as they could have been.
"I don't care about missed shots," Noah said. "When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be high the whole time. To me, that's what's disappointing. We play the Heat -- those guys ended our seasons a lot. You got to hate playing these guys, and our intensity has to be, every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn't good the whole time, and that's what's disappointing."
The Bulls came into Sunday's affair with a five-game winning streak and knowing that LeBron James wasn't going to play as he recovers from a broken nose, but they walked out of American Airlines Arena with the same miserable feeling that has accompanied many of their trips out of Miami over the past few seasons. The kind of feeling that comes when a team knows it has been dominated over various stretches in the game.
Although most don't like to say it publicly, Noah and his teammates always use a matchup against the Heat as a litmus test in regards to how they're doing in a particular season. They respect the way the Heat win, but they can't stand the group led by James, particularly Noah. The Heat have proven to be the Bulls' kryptonite season after season -- and Noah is sick of dealing with the same problem. That's why he was stewing in front of his locker as his teammates walked in and out of the shower. He's not sure why they weren't ready to play against Miami, but he doesn't believe in any kind of excuse.
"I'm frustrated about the game right now," Noah said. "I feel like we could have definitely played a lot better. When we play [the] Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes], regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge. Our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."
Coach Tom Thibodeau seemed disgusted with his team's overall performance as well. The offense was bad in the final 24 minutes, as evidenced by the fact that season-saving point guard D.J. Augustin was 0-for-10 from the field, but he shared Noah's anger regarding the lapses in effort throughout the game.
"We have to be tougher," Thibodeau said. "When things aren't going well, you can't allow for that to take away from the intensity. They let it carry over to the other end. You can't do that. Not against a team like this. You have to play for 48 minutes."
The Bulls looked offensively inept for long stretches in this game. They shot 35.8 percent from the field, but what was particularly jarring was the fact that the Bulls had seven shot-clock violations on the day. The saddest part of all for the Bulls is that they didn't sound as if they used James' absence to alter their game plan. They simply got beat by a better team.
"It doesn't matter if LeBron's out or in," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "That team is a good team. That team's got [good] players other than LeBron. They got Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade. People seem to forget those are All-Stars, too. That bench is deep. I just felt like we still played it as if LeBron played. We didn't shy away. We understand that's a championship team. We just didn't regroup the right way in the second half, and they just made a lot of big-time shots."
The story stays the same for the Bulls. Until they find a way to beat Miami on a consistent basis, they'll never get to their ultimate goal. The problem for them is the goal seems farther away than ever given Derrick Rose's uncertain health status and the fact they could muster only 79 points against a Miami squad playing without James.
Noah wants to see more from his teammates, and he expects even more from himself, but when the Bulls don't have enough talent, they must make up for it by playing with even more heart -- something they did not do on Sunday.
"We definitely have to learn from this," Noah said. "I think, mentally, our approach wasn't where it needed to be tonight. We let frustration get to us and you have to move on. Your mentality has to be [going to the] next play throughout the game because it just keeps going, and you can't let one mistake lead to other mistakes, especially against a team that talented."