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It’s not over ... but it’s over for Bulls as injuries finally take toll

Bulls starters Marco Belinelli Nate RobinsJoakim Noah sit bench during last few minutes Chicago Bulls 88-65 loss Miami Hegame four

Bulls starters Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Joakim Noah sit on the bench during the last few minutes of the Chicago Bulls 88-65 loss to the Miami Heat in game four of the Eastern Conference semifinal Monday May 13, 2013 at the United Center.

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Updated: May 14, 2013 11:12AM



Nine points. The Bulls scored nine points in the third quarter Monday night.

If you want to know what hitting the wall looks like, it looks like nine points in a quarter.

It also looks like Nate Robinson going 0-for-12 from the floor for the game, though I suppose that could have something to do with Robinson being born without the shyness gene or the self-awareness gene.

Hitting the wall looks like an 88-65 loss to the Heat. It looks like 17 turnovers. It looks like a 25.7 shooting percentage.

It looks like … it’s over.

This playoff series moves back to Miami on Wednesday with the Heat up 3-1. As much as we might like the story of the gritty, beat-up team that refuses to die, that story has run its course and collapsed before the finish line. There is no shame in it for the Bulls, who fought hard until the end. Along the way, lots of people started rooting for a team that was down to athletic tape, stitches and a heartbeat.

But Miami has too much, and the Bulls have too few healthy bodies.

Every shot they took Monday came with labor pains. Many of their jump shots fell short, a sign of tired legs.

“It’s tough because you’re getting good looks,’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But if you’re not getting the ball up on target, it’s tough.’’

Scoring nine points in a quarter is harder to do than scoring 40 points in a quarter. It was the lowest-scoring quarter in Bulls’ playoff history. Oh, and their 65 points were a franchise low for a playoff game.

It’s the latest numerical reminder that talent always wins out in a seven-game series in the NBA. Or, if you prefer, good health always wins out.

Robinson was dreadful Monday night. As good as he was in almost single-handedly beating the Nets in Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round series, he was just as bad Monday. By the fourth quarter, Marquis Teague had taken his place.

Was this Bad Nate or simply Exhausted Nate? I vote for the latter. I think he was epically worn down from the responsibility of having to carry the team offensively for long periods of the playoffs. He’s not built for that. But nobody made him keep shooting.

“We’ve got guys stepping in like Jimmy [Butler], myself playing heavy minutes, but that’s no excuse,’’ Robinson said. “We’re ballplayers. We’re ready, no matter what.’’

They handed out “Next Man Up’’ posters at the United Center on Monday night, a nod to coach Tom Thibodeau’s season-long mantra for a depleted team. It’s a wonderful sentiment, and it worked again and again this season.

But when your next man up is Rip Hamilton and theirs is LeBron because they don’t need a next man up, well, Monday night happens.

Thibodeau likes to say that the Bulls have enough to win, but the Heat finally has proven him wrong.

Look, Miami didn’t even play particularly well Monday. If anything, the Heat reverted back to the team that is unselfish to a fault. The way the Bulls played, Miami should have won by 40. One of these days, James will decide to take over.

LeBron hasn’t had a foul called on him since forever in this series, much to the outrage of Bulls’ fans. Two things are at work: Stars get the benefit of the doubt in the NBA, and James is that much better than everybody else.

This was a gentler game than the previous three cage matches, and maybe that was part of the problem. The only chance the Bulls had in this series was if they were more physical than the Heat. The anger wasn’t there Monday night, only the endless clang of missed shot after missed shot.

“We have to play with great intensity, but we have to make shots also,’’ Thibodeau said.

The Bulls used their last drop of fuel in Game 4. They need a huge failure by the Heat on Wednesday night.

“We have to go in with a mind-set to really approach this with desperation and urgency,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You don’t want to give this team second life. They’re far too dangerous.’’

The truth is that the Bulls have been through second and third lives this season. The only life they have left is past lives, and Thibodeau doesn’t sound like a guy who believes in anything but the here and now. And that’s not looking very pretty.



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