After their Game 3 loss, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stated his team would have to do the following: "We're going to have to play our best game on Monday. When you play this team, you need a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness. We're not going to get the calls."
Then his team did the exact opposite. It didn't match the mental, physical or emotional toughness of the squad they are going up against, and the refs were a total non-factor in why the Bulls suffered one of the most disheartening losses in franchise playoff history.
We all saw how bad it was (midway through the third quarter the Bulls had only made 12 field goals) and how bad it got (they shot 25.7 percent for the game, 11.8 percent from three-point range). We all saw how the Bulls had nothing left to give, how losing Game 3 took every inch of everything they had out of them, how eventually their overachieving ways finally caught up with them.
We saw the end.
But to give up on these Bulls after all they've been through and done to get to a Game 5 against the Heat would be a punk move. Weak and shallow. Backbone-less. If anything, especially after proving that they are one of the hardest "outs" left standing in the NBA playoffs, Game 5 should be the game they are expected to win. Even after seeing what we just saw Monday night.
Only because all season long this team has found ways to surprise us. To take whatever expectation that had been placed on them and surpass it. At times when it has looked like they should be fighting for lottery space with the Bobcats and Hornets, these Bulls have reached inside of themselves and fought for wins (and gotten a few) that have had fans truly believing they should have been going back to Miami tied 2-2.
"They're in a tough situation," LeBron James said in his best PC-tone after Game 4, stating the obvious. "Because of injury and illness and whatever's going on. But that's not for us to worry about."
And not something the Bulls should start worrying about now going into an elimination game. There's nothing they can do about it, nothing they can change. Thibs' "next man up" approach has gotten them this far, so Game 5 is the wrong time for the Bulls to begin questioning or flipping that mentality.
Yes, as LeBron stated, the Bulls are in a "tough situation." But none tougher than some of the ones they've fought through to get here. The only question left to ask: Can they find a way to push this thing to Game 6?
Because if they get to play on Friday, theoretically the Bulls can get embarrassed again in the UC and it wouldn't make a difference. Respect and honor will be forever etched, their season would be made.
Losing to the Heat in six will become the permanent sports definition of "a moral victory."
But the reality check remains. What happens next in this series is not all about what the Bulls do, it's also and almost all about what Miami decides to do.
Before the tip-off of Game 4, a Bulls security guard said to James while he was loosening up outside of the Heat locker room while the rest of his teammates were on the court waiting for the game to begin, "See you, Friday."
To which James replied, "Bulls----."