Whether it was surprising or shocking, the Bulls’ season ended with a dud in a manner nobody expected, allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to dance over their home floor for the better part of the second half in a desperation game.
After telling anyone who would listen they were one possession away in the last two losses, the Bulls left no doubt in their season-ending 94-73 loss at the United Center Thursday night, in perhaps their worst home showing of the season.
Now the speculation begins about everybody’s future, starting with coach Tom Thibodeau, as many expect he and the Bulls to part ways this offseason—and the season ended with the Cavaliers exercising tenets that used to be a hallmark of vintage Thibodeau squads.
It wasn’t a LeBron James classic game or classic finish, nor did Kyrie Irving hobble around after hitting kill shot after kill shot. It was “the others” who led the way for the Cavaliers, the players who did all the little things many believed Bulls would be better at.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Like effort, which produces extra possessions or unknown heroes like Matthew Dellavedova, whose 19 points was good enough to outscore every Chicago Bull except Jimmy Butler—and Butler had to take 22 shots to get that.
Dellavedova, who was nothing more than a nuisance after Game 5 due to his scrum with Taj Gibson, became a Cavaliers folk hero as he helped put the Bulls away.
Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and James Jones hit three triples each, while the Bulls mustered just four as a team.
“I thought their bench played really well,” Thibodeau said. “When you couple the bench with LeBron, he’s going to make you pay.”
They barely had enough life to produce more than a spark, but nobody expected their most lopsided effort when they needed it most. They scored 31 in the first quarter, but only combined for 29 in the next two quarters, shooting 32 percent while the Cavs ran away with it.
The turnovers and missed opportunities added up, coupled with the mistakes of allowing standstill shooters to beat them doing the only thing that makes them useful on a patchwork Cavaliers roster.
The game-turning fouls at the most inopportune times, illustrated by Nikola Mirotic unnecessarily clotheslining Cavaliers forward Iman Shumpert with 5:19 left in the first half and the Bulls trailing by one.
It riled up Shumpert, who scored the next two possessions after his flagrant foul free throw, and led to the Cavaliers rushing the Bulls for a 20-2 run to end the half. All with Irving on the bench after injuring his left knee early in the second quarter and James returning to Earth after his superhuman effort in Game 5.
“The 2nd quarter has been a problem for us the whole series,” Thibodeau said. “That (sequence) took a lot out of us, but I thought the fight was in there in the third.”
When your opposition scores five points in the first seven minutes of a quarter you have to win, yet extend their lead, it’s no wonder the Bulls are going home. Same goes for allowing Tristan Thompson to muscle his way up, around and through Bulls defenders for 17 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
Derrick Rose started out fast, as he did in game 5 but sputtered afterwards, finishing with 14 points and six assists. Pau Gasol gave the Bulls a temporary boost by his presence, but it was nothing more than ceremonial as his teammates didn’t show up.
“I want to say this about Derrick: This was a long year for Derrick,” Thibodeau said. “The good thing is, I think he has regained his confidence. You have to remember, he hasn’t played in three post-seasons. Getting this experience is really good for him.”
James, a fixture in not only the postseason but is becoming the face of June, orchestrated things to the tune of 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, while Irving only played 12 minutes before injuring his left knee.
He wasn’t needed, and the Bulls enter into an offseason with a meek effort that saw them get outrebounded by 21, shoot 37 percent from the field while allowing 12 3-pointers from the visitors.
With no doubt being left by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, they can enter into an offseason with nothing else but clear directives on what’s to come—starting with the man on the sidelines.
“Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” Thibodeau said.