These crippled Bulls were not going to beat the Heat.
The decomposing depth of a team built on depth was not going to win the NBA title.
In fact, it didn’t look as if the Bulls even cared to make tipoff for one last game.
The Bulls came out dead in Game 5. They looked as if they quit before the ball went up. They were down 22-4 and could the Blackhawks start already?
Then the Bulls started playing actual basketball. They hadn’t quit after all. They started hitting shots, while the Heat just stopped. Stopped executing. Stopped scoring. Stopped moving. And suddenly, the Bulls had outscored them by 24 points to end the first half with a six-point lead.
The Bulls went back and forth with the reigning champs in the second half. They blew an 11-point lead. They had a chance at the end. Two chances. Pffft. Now, no more chances.
The Bulls earned themselves a pat on the head. Good puppy. Now go away.
Professional resolve aside, it’s just as well the Bulls’ season ended with Game 5 on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t that I was rooting for them to lose, but the longer they went, the more likely it seemed someone would get dismembered. I mean, that appeared to be the next move in the Bulls’ game of “Can You Top This Incapacitation?’’
And besides, the first-half comeback and tough effort the rest of the way was powered by players who won’t be around when the Bulls become contenders. I mean, just look:
Carlos Boozer scored 26 points. Nate Robinson came back from Game 4’s 0-for-12 with 21. Richard Hamilton crawled out of the crypt to pour in 15. They’ll be gone this summer or next.
Only Jimmy Butler’s 19 points are something that might matter when the Bulls can legitimately hold title hopes.
So then, with the Bulls’ season mercifully over, what did we learn?
Not much. Sadly, frustratingly, ridiculously, not much.
Butler perhaps played his way into a starting job and Kirk Hinrich proved more indispensible than anyone would’ve believed. That’s about it. Beep, beep, drive home safely.
Because Derrick Rose didn’t play. Maybe he refused to chance it. Maybe he wasn’t allowed to. Fact is, his rehabbed stalled, and Rose’s rehab was the Bulls’ season.
Rose was cleared to practice three months ago. He was scrimmaging, and scrimmaging hard, and tearing it up, according to many reports. But he wouldn’t play this season.
Arguably, Rose was the healthiest Bull on the bench. But he wouldn’t play this season.
Which means the last and most important part of Rose’s rehab this season -- playing actual games -- won’t come until next season.
He will have ground to make up in his return. He will endure bumps and swelling and some discomfort. Every player coming off ACL surgery does. He is behind on that part, which means he’s holding back the Bulls, which means we’re nowhere with the Bulls.
Until you know where your best player is in his game, you don’t know where your team is in relation to a title, and a title is all that matters.
It didn’t happen this season. It could’ve. It should’ve. Such a waste.
What we learned, then, is that this wasn’t so much a season as a couple semesters of gym class.