- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Bulls had the best regular-season record in the NBA, an MVP in Derrick Rose and the coach of the year in Tom Thibodeau. Now they’ll have a long summer after a crushing defeat that ended their season in the Eastern Conference finals.

Chicago blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter Thursday night, falling apart when they appeared on their way to victory and losing a stunner 83-80.

It’s a setback that will no doubt linger throughout the offseason.

“Just learn from it,” Rose said quietly afterward. “We’ll get closer as a team, get better, and all we can do now is work on our games this summer. … If anything this is going to make me hungry. We made it this far with this group, my teammates, great teammates. Too bad we couldn’t get it to the finals.”

The Bulls won the opener of the series in convincing fashion, but then couldn’t find their way in the latter stages of the next four games. Nothing could sting more than losing on their home floor in the fashion they did Thursday night.

Rose fouled fellow Chicago native Dwyane Wade on a 3-pointer and after the Heat guard sank the free throw with a minute and a half left, the four-point play was the fuel Miami needed to complete the remarkable rally.

A 3-pointer by LeBron James tied it and then his jumper gave Miami a two-point lead.

Rose, who scored 25 but shot only 9 for 29, then missed the second of two free throws. Chris Bosh’s two free throws put the Heat up three and all Chicago could get was an off-balance 3-point attempt by Rose in the closing seconds.

“They played great defense so it was hard to get good shots,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said.

“All the games were hard-fought games that came down to the end. …Sometimes things aren’t going your way and you have to able to navigate through that stuff,” he said. “Down the stretch there were a lot of things going against us, but that’s part of it.”

Thibodeau looked back to Tuesday night’s overtime loss when the Bulls had a chance to win in the closing seconds of regulation and Rose missed a shot.

“Tonight we had the lead and couldn’t hold onto it,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully we learn from that. … You use this experience to drive you so you can improve for next year.”

The Bulls couldn’t land James or Wade in the offseason and instead built a powerful team by adding forward Carlos Boozer and sharpshooter Kyle Korver. But both struggled against the Heat, with Boozer finishing with only 5 points and six rebounds in the finale and Korver with just five points.

The Bulls shot just 35.8 percent for the game and managed only 18 fourth-quarter points. Rose, guarded by James, was 2 for 9 in the final period when the Bulls went 6 for 18 as a team.

“I wasn’t tired. I was just making dumb decisions and it cost us this game,” Rose said.

Story Continues →