This should not have been close. This should not have been a comeback. This should not have been difficult.
The Miami Heat built an 18-point lead, screwed around for three quarters, then turned on the jets and burned past the injured, depleted Bulls, who had outworked them for about 35 minutes. Miami won this game and this series in five games because the Bulls are decidedly, convincingly, better.
But they need better focus, better effort and better execution in the next series. The easy part is over. That's right, the Bulls, with all their grit and toughness, were the easy part. The Heat won because they can do that when they want. But they're held to a higher standard.
They won, fine, but they need more from here on out.
They came back from 18 down in an elimination game on the road because that's their character. They outworked a team with more talent, better depth, better health and more to play for, because that's their work ethic. The Chicago Bulls gave Miami everything it could handle for 35 minutes, but Miami just had too much for Chiago to survive.
The Bulls go into an offseason wanting to forget how this season went down. They get Derrick Rose back (right?), and will have Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich back and the opportunity to improve their team. They found Jimmy Butler is a terrific up-and-coming player and that their system will always keep them in games.
In the end, they lost because they missed shots that they had to take because of the injuries. Good job, good effort, now let's forget this season happened and move forward.
Oh, and don't overpay for Nate Robinson.
It wasn't personal. It was just business.
Memphis' first-round win vs. the Clippers was about beating a team that was their rival after knocking them out last year. The Grizzlies have a genuine distaste for that team. OKC there was nothing but respect. This was about taking care of business.
And in Game 5 vs. OKC, there was no fooling around, no wasting an opportunity. They closed down, they closed out, they made the plays. It was defense, as always, forcing Kevin Durant into another miserable game and suffocating the Thunder with turnovers and missed shots.
Zach Randolph took over and did the work inside, muscling and bustling and never bluffing. Mike Conley sliced and diced. They shared the ball and made plays.
The Thunder were without Westbrook and that does take away from what this win means for the rest of us. But for the hard-luck city of Memphis, for Zach Randolph and the rest of the All Heart, Grit, Grind crew, it just means their first conference finals appearance in franchise history.
It was Westbrook.
I don't know what else you expect me to say. It was Russell Westbrook'S absence that cost the Thunder this series and it was just as evident in Game 5 as it was in every other loss in this series. You can't get by counting on Reggie Jackson in his first playoff series and Derek Fisher in his zillionth. You can't count on Serge Ibaka when he's always benefitted from Westbrook.
And it turns out, even Kevin Durant is mortal when the entire defense is geared against him. Durant had another horrible game. And yet still, the Thunder had a chance, somehow, an open jumper for the world's best scorer. No good.
Nothing went right for the Thunder this year, from the Harden trade to the Westbrook injury to Durant's final shot.
And still, Westbrook and Durant aren't 26 yet.
They'll be back. They'll be better. And they'll be angry.
But this year just wasn't their year.