It's no great natural sin to fall at the hands of something superior to you. It's bound to happen in life, something like 999 times out of a thousand, and if you don't believe me, just try to catch up with the bird that just flew past your window. Actually, don't. I'm not entirely sure if I can be sued by your estate after making a suggestion along those lines.
Chicago is clearly the inferior team in this Eastern Conference final, but can it really claim to be playing to its potential? I'm not buying the Florida showcase as an example of such. Game 2, maybe, Miami was pretty brilliant down the stretch. But Game 3, with that timid offense and lacking defense?
And Game 4? Tuesday's dodgy showcase that featured a litany of missed chances near the rim, blown looks at wide-open threes, poor shot selection down the stretch, and careless turnovers when the going got real? Credit Miami, of course, but this was the sound of Chicago screwing up.
But Ironhead, isn't it really hard to make 25-footers when an inch or five (spread out over the only five shots you get in a game) can make the difference between champ and chump? No doubt, but that's what happens when you're trying to make the finals.
But Ironhead, isn't it really tough to rebound and score around the rim, when you can't jump as high as your defender, and wing-blocking maestros like LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes) loom large in your thought process? Even if they're not around, have you tried to squeeze a ball with a strong hand you don't trust, as you attempt to go back up with a loose ball you just worked your way toward? No doubt, but these are the chippies that need to fall more often than not, when you're trying to make the finals.
But Ironhead, can you understand what it's like to be guarded by some 6-9 freak that can both keep up in side-to-side drills with Rickey Green while still being able to touch the top of the backboard box like some version of Dwight Howard(notes) that can actually grow a beard? What else are you going to shoot over LeBron James? Well, that's the point. You don't shoot over him. You trust yourself and you see what happens when you turn the corner on him. Because you can.
But Ironhead, those in-bound plays are really tough to execute, and hanging onto the ball … actually, we kind of blew that one, Ironhead.
I know you did, Chicago. Which is why I come with scorn and disappointment. Not just as a fan, but as someone who knows what you're capable of. Just getting there isn't enough. Competing and throwing up your hands as you lament Miami's brilliance isn't going to work. You wanted these expectations, you worked toward these expectations, you personally said "why not me?," as you embraced these expectations, and you fell short of what was to be expected.
In a week's time, really, after Miami spent most of its season falling short of just about everything. That old Heat team, even though it approached 60 wins, was more than a disappointment. The Heat smacked of a group that had scorn for the game we love. I questioned their moral instincts in this realm, as they preferred the martyr role despite never actually winning anything. I questioned their offense, I questioned their defense, and I questioned their leadership.
And to me, as June approaches, I still wonder about their offense, defense and leadership. But I also understand that it apparently doesn't matter. And not in the, "it doesn't matter how you shoot at the end of close games if you make sure that there are no close games"-ideal.
These have all been close games, save for Game 1, and LeBron James has made sure that his Heat team has looked a step and a half ahead of Chicago. Erik Spoelstra has done wonders with misdirection and/or screen-and-roll work to make sure that James has the room to dominate, and even if we're a little wary of his L'il Riles-type interviews given both mid-game and postgame, the Heat coach has done a brilliant job with this team.
Chicago, despite its effort, can't claim as such. The Bulls claimed to be contenders, and they're not thinking, creating, nor acting upon the rewards they've been given. They know better, and they're playing the martyr. Shrugging their shoulders after the ball rims out. Because, what else are you supposed to do when 6-9 LeBron James closes out on your shot attempt?
You move past him. You make this an uncomfortable game, as you did before the weather grew warm. You treat the sport you love in the same way that the man who created it developed it did, as some cold-weather distraction for rowdy youths. You work, and act oblivious to your surroundings, when your opponent doesn't want to. You don't fall back on trying real, real hard relative to the circumstance.
You're above circumstance. You don't fall back on jumpers, fake Dick Barnett. You don't think twice about passes, Nervous Guy. And you don't point to those four pounds of sweat that you just worked off in 53 minutes of play as evidence enough of how much you care. We know you care. It's nearly June. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care. It's time for something more.
Good god, what a great thing Miami has going. What impressive consistency, finally, to match its considerable talent. I bow to this team. I really do.
Chicago? It has to start playing like it has its hands shoved into its coat pockets. It has to start playing like it can see its breath as it walks to its car. It has to stop mistaking activity for achievement, and realize the opportunity that it has earned through earlier achievements. And in spite of the remarkable work and activity level the Bulls came through with in Game 4 on Tuesday, I don't think they can honestly say they did justice that day.
They'll get one more chance to get it right. Because, believe me, Miami isn't going anywhere.