This is the way the 2016-17 Bulls season ends; not with a bang but with a whimper in a 105-83 loss to the Boston Celtics. Don’t confuse this one with poetry. The Bulls Friday after such a brilliant and encouraging start to the playoffs became hollow men in never leading, falling behind by double digits in the first quarter and by 30 in the premature dying light of their season.
“I understand the frustration,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg about the uneasy fans on this bleak April night. “It was a frustrating game. No doubt about that to go out this way. High note to start this series the way we got off to a 2-0 lead and couldn’t finish it off. I thought we fought and battled, especially Game 5 in Boston; we just didn’t have it tonight.”
The Celtics won the series 4-2 with four straight wins after that audacious Bulls start. The Celtics now go on to play the Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals; the Bulls plan for next season.
“We lost this series,” said Jimmy Butler, who pushed through for 23 points despite knee problems. “So that sums that up. The season, I guess we did better than y’all picked us to finish; sum it up that way.”
Robin Lopez was the only other Bull scoring in double figures with 10 points. Dwyane Wade had two points on one of 10 shooting after hurting his elbow again. Isaiah Canaan added nine points. Boston was 16 of 39 on threes. The Bulls were four of 19. Rajon Rondo didn’t return after sustaining a fractured thumb in Game 2.
“I’d have played more minutes, I’d of went one for 20. I don’t care; you have to shoot the basketball. Jimmy did, came out, tried to be aggressive tonight. They kicked our butts overall. I played 19 minutes. I’ve been one for 10 in a half before. I’m not worried about that. We didn’t get an opportunity to make the game close enough, competitive, to do the things we need to do. So, like I said, one seed came out tonight and put it on the eight seed like they should have done and they did a good job of it.”
Yes, the Bulls went very gentle into a not so good night for them and, hopefully, a productive off season. There was little or no rage for them against the dying light of their season and blunted hopes.
Somewhere between the emotion and the response come the big questions for the Bulls. The Bulls now will consider the future in the wake of their descent in an uncompetitive finale after such a potent start to the playoffs, the twinkle of their bright stars fading before our eyes. Who will be back and how will they become solid again? Is the road ahead to be less traveled by this group?
“I’m going to go home, eat some dinner, talk about it with my guys and maybe talk to them (management) tomorrow,” said Butler, who added he hoped to remain with the Bulls. “Whatever upstairs feels we need or we don’t need. That’s up to them. As a player, myself and everybody else back in the locker room, we have to go out there and play. The guys they put together have to do their best to win games and represent for this organization.
“A lot of the roles have changed,” Butler said about the 41-41 regular season. “Lineups have changed. Props to the (young players) because they’re always ready. It’s hard to stay ready when you don’t know when your name is going to be called. I’ve got a lot of faith in those young guys. They work. They listen. They don’t complain. They do what you ask them to do. That’s all you can expect out of young guys. He’s (Rondo) been huge for us this year. Molding these young guys into the type of player they need to be on the basketball floor and in the film room, the way he plays the game, getting everybody involved, I love playing with him. Him and D-Wade. But I don’t know what the future holds for anybody. So I’ll sit back and wait on that time to come.
“When that time comes, I’m sure we’ll sit down and talk about it (with Wade),” said Butler. “Right now, you have to rest your mind. It’s a long way away. I’m sure he would tell you the same thing. But when that time comes, I’ll sit down and talk to him, probably face to face and see where his mind is at and where mine is.”
Wade, who had his poorest game of the season, said he needs time to decompress. He has a player option of $23.8 million to return for next season. Rondo has a $3 million buyout and team option for $13.4 million for next season. Butler remains under long term contract.
“Lot of stuff on my mind now,” said Wade. “I’m proud of these guys in here; they competed. Went through adverse situations. That’s not for me to say right now (about a return). Obviously, that’s not even my job. I don’t want to speak to that.
“I have a lot of time,” said Wade about his option. “I’m far away from that now; just got through this 14th NBA season; it’s for me identified with championships. If I’m not winning a championship, I’m never satisfied from that standpoint. But you take things out of it, you go back and look at the season and see what you could have done better individually. I am not worried about my future because I know it’s basketball; I’m not really concerned with it now.”
Hoiberg said personnel decisions, the draft and free agency are now to be considered. But Hoiberg did say he loved coaching Rondo, who did not meet with reporters.
“Obviously, we played great basketball with Rajon toward the end of the season,” said Hoiberg of the 7-2 finish and 2-0 start to the playoffs. “Obviously, the two games he was healthy in the playoff we won those. So he was terrific, great. The highs and lows we had this season, he found a way to continue to battle through that and play his best basketball when it mattered most. I love Rondo, I love coaching him, I love everything about the kid. He was so good to have on the floor and when we put him back in the starting lineup with Niko (Mirotic) with Jimmy we got a lot accomplished. We played an exciting style of basketball, a fun style of basketball to watch, a fun style of basketball to coach and Rajon was responsible for a lot of that.
“The way we were playing since the trade (of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott), 16 of 29 games with 10 or more threes and Rondo was a big part of that,” said Hoiberg. “Getting into the paint, getting us out with pace, having guys run with him. We lost that when he went out; the opportunity to get easy baskets, which he did a great job of for us. I love everything about what Rajon gave us. We peaked and played our best basketball at the end and he was a big part of that.”
That Rondo wasn’t any part of the last four games, all losses and the last three in the United Center, will lead to a lot of what if. The Celtics were healthy, but it’s doubtful five more Rondos could have made a difference Friday.
With Avery Bradley leading five Boston players scoring in double figures with 23 points, the Celtics pushed the Bulls around, moved more swiftly and with purpose.v
The Bulls starters came out lethargic with Butler playing through a sore knee, their last gasp in Game 5 back in Boston. They had little left as the Celtics hit them with three pointers on Boston’s first three possessions and the rout was on.
It was 21-11 Celtics six minutes in, 42-25 early in the second quarter, 84-54 midway through the third in a game when strategy paled in comparison to strength. Quote the Bulls, nevermore for this one.
“It wasn’t (Rondo’s absences),” said Butler. “A lot of mishaps, a lot of switches we weren’t supposed to switch, a lot of not closing out. Playing to people’s weaknesses, we didn’t do that very well. It leads to what happened tonight, a lot of open shots. They are a good team. They make those, we have to come out better with more effort and focus on the personnel we are guarding.”
Maybe next time; next season.
“No one can be more disappointed than the players in the locker room,” said Wade. “We are the ones who put in all the blood, sweat and tears. Of course, we would have loved to win every game, but it’s not in the cards. It’s not the team that was put together that way.
“They shot the three ball here better than they did at their place and we played better at their place than we did here; very weird series from that standpoint,” said Wade. “At the end of the day they came out and took care of business. We put a fight up, made it a tough series. We can all speculate of how different it could have been. Obviously, we got a chance to see two games with our team with what we were able to do and we won two in a row, which is good. But that’s a part of a lot of guys’ careers, a lot of teams, the what ifs. We didn’t win; we go into the summer and try to get better.
“At the end of the day we wanted to make the playoffs; we did that. Injuries are part of the game. It always sucks when you don’t get to see the full potential of the team from that standpoint. When training camp started we weren’t a team talking championship; we were talking steps, steps to get to the playoffs. We were able to do that; so we took a step in the right direction.”
To the valley of the death of the season rode the Bulls 15. There was no glory this time. Perhaps another time.