- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- As usual, Derrick Rose tried to take the blame for the Chicago Bulls’ 97-93 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon. After all, he was the guy who missed two crucial free throws with 22.7 seconds left that would have given the Bulls the lead and he was the guy who missed another shot with 3.7 seconds that probably would have sent the game into overtime. He was the guy who stood in a quiet locker room after the game, trying to wrap his brain around what had just happened as he got dressed.
"It was me," Rose fumed. "All the plays at the end. If I would have hit them free throws, it never would have gotten that far."
But as anyone in the Bulls' locker room can tell you, it certainly wasn't Rose' fault that the Bulls lost this game. In fact, Rose was the biggest reason they were in it in the first place. He took over the game at times and tried his best to overpower LeBron James in crunch time.
Sure, Rose will privately stew about his failures, but that actually might be to the Bulls' benefit. The end of Sunday's game might actually motivate Rose more than ever. As much as he tried to downplay the significance of Sunday's regular-season affair, Rose badly wanted to beat James and Co. He wanted to show the Heat that the Bulls had improved and were going to be tough to beat if the two teams square off again in the Eastern Conference finals rematch that most basketball pundits are expecting later this spring.
The man who should take a long look in the mirror after this game is the same man who failed to show up throughout most of the Bulls' postseason contests last season: Carlos Boozer. The veteran forward spent much of the day in foul trouble and struggled defensively -- as usual. While many Bulls fans will spin the loss as a valiant effort without Luol Deng (wrist) and C.J. Watson (wrist), they shouldn't lose sight of the bigger issue.
Yes, Deng might have done a better job on James and might have slowed him down more. Yes, they could have used the offensive punch he usually provides. And, yes, having Watson come in and spot Rose for a few moments may have made a difference at the end of the game. But Boozer's continued struggles against Miami raise serious questions for the future of this rivalry. The biggest one being: Can the Bulls knock off the Heat in a seven-game series without getting consistent production from the man who was supposed to be the second offensive option on a championship-caliber team?
"You learn from every game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Every game, whether you win or lose, I think it's important to understand why. Hopefully you learn, move forward. Strive for improvement."
That's the problem for the Bulls right now. The improvement that they needed to see from Boozer, especially against the Heat, just wasn't there. When James switches to Rose, as he did midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulls are going to have to find another option who can score. Boozer’s 10 points, nine rebounds and six fouls just isn't going to cut it.
Rip Hamilton and Deng are All Star-caliber players, but they can't take over all by themselves. Boozer has that ability, especially on the offensive end, but if he doesn't put it to use against this Miami team at some point, the Bulls' season is going to end the same way it did last year.
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info