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MORRISSEY: Bulls were short on men but long on heart in loss

Updated: June 4, 2013 6:45AM



Kirk Hinrich didn’t play because of a calf injury.

Luol Deng didn’t play because of flu-like symptoms or, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called it, “a viral something something.’’ A test for viral meningitis came back negative, according to CSNChicago.com.

Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson apparently had their own viral something something but played. If it’s the kind of flu I’m thinking of, we can call them the Bucket Boys.

Joakim Noah played with plantar fasciitis, a foot condition that makes your arch your archenemy.

Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli didn’t have health issues, though given how things are going for their team, it’s entirely possible they have malaria and don’t know it.

These are your Chicago Bulls, or these were your Chicago Bulls, because the chances of them getting out of this playoff series appear to be small at this point. Game 7 is Saturday in Brooklyn. And yet, who would be willing to bet against a team that has defied logic and reason and doctor’s orders all season?

Who could bet against a team that took the Nets to the edge Thursday night before finally losing 95-92?

“We’re a team of fighters,’’ Noah said. “We keep getting punched in the face, but we fight back. I’m proud of this team. We know we’re going into a hostile environment in Brooklyn, and we’re going to win.’’

The Bulls are beaten up and run down. They’re sick and tired. But they played about as hard and as valiantly as they could in Game 6, and there’s something to be said for that. There are no moral victories in the NBA, and when you’re making millions of dollars, what’s one night of misery? But the Bulls deserve praise for the not-so-simple act of persevering.

“A couple times I had to throw up during the game, but I didn’t know if they were going to call a foul on me if I threw up on Deron Williams,’’ Robinson said. “I’ll have to check the rulebook on that one.’’

When you’ve battled injuries, played without your best player and still won 45 regular-season games, special nights like Thursday night can happen. We really shouldn’t have been surprised that they hung with the Nets, a decent team that hasn’t grown up yet. Even with all that ailed them, the Bulls outhustled Brooklyn. They got to loose balls first. They outrebounded them. Noah forced a jump ball on a Nets’ out-of-bounds play with 3.6 seconds left in the game and his team trailing by three points. I believe that’s called the will to win around here.

But it wasn’t enough.

What would have been the logical outcome of the Bulls’ journey through injury and illness Thursday night? It should have ended with Noah’s foot lying detached from his leg at center court. Or with gurney races on the United Center floor.

Rip Hamilton got in the game. OK? Do you understand now how depleted the Bulls were? They went viral, and not in a good way.

They found themselves playing a run-and-gun game in the first quarter that was not in the best interest of a team struggling physically. The Nets made nine of their first 12 shots and ended up shooting 65 percent for the quarter. Thibodeau was filled with so much self-loathing that, for a brief moment, he considered a career as a sportswriter.

Then his team settled down. When Thibodeau says “next man up,’’ he really means it and, more importantly, the next man up believes it. Belinelli, starting in place of Deng, was excellent. He hit a huge three-pointer to draw the Bulls to within 90-88 with about two minutes left but missed a 24-foot shot that would have tied the game in the final seconds. It was as if he had been a starter all season.

There is no question the Nets have the talent advantage. But the real question, the only question really, is whether the Bulls have enough left in the tank to advance. Have they finally run into the wall? Before the game, I thought the answer to both was no. After what I saw Thursday, I’m not sure about anything anymore.

“We’ve been doing it all year long,’’ Gibson said. “We just never had … guys healthy at the right time so we could gel. There was always a knock in the road. But we keep striving, keep pushing. We just got to keep going. We don’t make excuses on this team.’’

They could, but they don’t, a very cool thing indeed.



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