CHICAGO -- They fought and struggled with every breath in their busted and wheezing bodies because this has become their overriding strength, their personality. This, over the last three seasons, is what their coach has convinced them they have to do. Tom Thibodeau stood in his familiar spot outside the Chicago Bulls locker room an hour before the game and said things that make no sense to the average person, stuff about “next man up” and “we have enough” despite being preposterously shorthanded.
Luol Deng was too flu-ridden, Kirk Hinrich was too hurt, Taj Gibson was so flu-ridden he had the shakes 45 minutes before tipoff. Planting and jumping or planting and shooting was again virtually impossible for Joakim Noah, what with his plantar fasciitis. Yet, there was Thibs virtually daring his team to be anything less than good enough to beat the Brooklyn Nets in the moments before Game 6. “We’ve got a great group of guys,” he said. “They’ve responded to every challenge. I don’t expect tonight to be any different.”
And in some ways it wasn’t. The Bulls defended (the Nets shot 40 percent), they rebounded (46-41 on the glass), they scrapped and forced jump balls right down to the final 3.6 seconds. But pro basketball, more than all the other professional sports, is a talent league, a players’ league. And if you’re missing your best players in the NBA usually you lose, especially in the playoffs, which is the primary reason this series is going back to Brooklyn for Game 7 Sunday after the Nets’ 95-92 win. And seventh games on the road are, historically, where dreams go to die.