MIAMIThe scene in the visiting locker room at American Airlines Arena was forlorn. Empty stall after empty stall, no typical postgame chatternot even angry whispering, as usually occurs after tough lossesand save for a few stragglers, an exiting assistant coach or two and the teams equipment manager, nobody to talk to about the Bulls 83-72 loss to the Heat Thursday night.
Joakim Noah was there, at least physically. Mentally, however, the normally-charismatic center was in another world, speaking in short, clipped answers and in a monotone.
We didnt play well down the stretch, he said. We didnt play well offensively. Seventy points isnt going to get it done.
They wanted it more than us tonight, but well be back, Noah continued. To Miamis physical play, the Bulls didnt respond great, but well be back.
When asked about Heat reserve James Jones flagrant foulwhich led to the sharpshooters ejection and sparked the chippy play that pervaded the contestNoah tersely replied, I think he was just trying to keep me off the boards and just part of the game.
Of LeBron James devastating screen, which knocked diminutive point guard John Lucas III to the floor and led to further skirmishes between the rival teams, Noah was even less forthcoming.
It was cool, he answered. Its fine.
Itnot just the isolated play, but the Bulls mentality as a wholeclearly wasnt fine to his coach.
Every time we play them, thats the way its going to be, so you have to have the mental toughness to get through all that. You cant shy away from any of that stuff. Its going to be there and thats the way we like it. The missed shots, you can deal with that, but your defense, your rebounding, I thought we got loose with the ball in the second half and we paid for it, said Tom Thibodeau. There was a lot of stuff going on, but thats to be expected. Youre on the road, theyre a good team, were fighting for the same thing. Were going to have to deal with that more effectively.
We have to deal with it, he went on to say. A hard-fought games going to be like this. Youve still got to be able to executeI just want to see them respond.
It wasnt necessarily an overall indictment of his tough-minded team, but Thibodeau, a veteran observer of the late-90s playoff wars from when he was an assistant in New York, was clearly disappointed in his teams lack of preparedness for the games physical nature. That was exemplified by Miamis 45-40 rebounding advantage, despite being outsized by the Bulls.
Rebounding was poor. We didnt close out the second quarter the way we should have and we started the third quarter lethargically and then, the fourth quarter, we had a shot. We had a shot, 68-65, and we had a few bad possessions in a row that swung the game open, swung it the other way, and you cant do that. In a minute in this league, the game can go the other way on you and it did, said Thibodeau. They went. They were physical, they pursued, they had a multiple-effort mentality. The more you go, the more you get. Theyre quick to the ball. Youve got to play through the contact and I thought they were more aggressive.
His players even sported war wounds from the gameAll-Star Luol Deng suffered a cut above his eye; I didnt see the play. I didnt see exactly how he got the cut, but that was the nature of the game. It was pretty physical, said Thibodeaubut at least publically, the coach pledged to move on, despite failing to clinch the Eastern Conferences top seed Thursday.
You deal with it like you deal with it all year. We lost tonight. We go home, we study, get ready for Dallas. This game will reveal certain things to us, things that need to be corrected, he said. Were not going to get caught up in 1 games, 2 games, whatever. Keep doing the things that we need to do to win. Thats all that we have to focus in on.
But knowing theyll likely have to go through the Heat to reach their goal of a championship, Noah didnt mince words when asked what the Bulls have to do next time they inevitably face the Heat.
Outwill them. They wanted it more than us tonight, he said. I mean, we wanted it bad, but they wanted it more. That cant happen.