What a disappointing way to go out.
Pau Gasol returned, but the Bulls’ defense didn’t measure up. With their wobbly offense not stepping up, either, the Bulls went down 94-73 on Thursday in Game 6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If this was Tom Thibodeau’s last game as Bulls coach, as many suspect, it wasn’t pretty on either end of the floor.
“Give them credit,’’ Thibodeau said after LeBron James (15 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) nearly had a triple-double. “They played very well. LeBron was unbelievable. He beat us with the pass. Congratulations to their organization. I’m proud of our guys. We came up short.’’
Thibodeau tossed aside speculation he won’t return.
“Until they tell me I’m not [the coach], I expect to be here,” he said. “That’s the way I approach it.’’
The Cavs beat the Bulls in shooting (42 percent to 37 percent) and rebounding (53-32).
“We just couldn’t get the ball in the bucket,’’ Joakim Noah said. “Disappointing, the way we went out. But proud of this team. We’ve been through a lot this year.’’
Playoff basketball often isn’t artistic. But the Bulls were right to think this was their opportunity to defeat James, who still was adjusting to his first season back in Ohio. That was especially true with Kevin Love lost to a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving hobbled by knee and ankle issues.
Was it a missed opportunity?
“In a way, yes. In a way, no,’’ -Gasol said. “They played better than us. They won the series. They deserve to move on.’’
After being so-close to taking a 3-1 lead in the second-round series, the Bulls were bounced in six games.
The final game was tough to swallow, especially Derrick Rose’s disappearing act. Rose scored two points on 1-for-3 shooting in the third quarter, when the Bulls needed to rally. He finished with 14 points, 10 in the first quarter.
When the Bulls look back, they’ll lament the loss in Game 4, when they were unable to hold an 11-point lead with less than 13 minutes to play. James broke their hearts with a tough jumper from the left corner for an 86-84 decision.
Thibodeau was asked how the Bulls’ season should be judged.
“It’s not for me to judge,” he said. “But for our team to stick together the way they did, it’s a credit to them. Our starters played in 20 games, and they were in less practices than that.’’
While the Bulls held James in check, his supporting cast delivered. Matthew Dellavedova (19 points), Iman Shumpert (13), Tristan Thompson (13), J.R. Smith (12) and James Jones (nine) all brought offense.
The Cavs led 58-44 at the half and opened a 19-point lead in the third quarter. The Bulls had no answer.
It’s a tough way to end a season for a team that had higher expectations. Injuries to Rose, Noah and Gasol were big factors.
Whether Thibodeau returns is an open question.
Noah said he hopes his coach stays.
“Thibs is a hard worker,’’ Noah said. “He’s always had us prepared. Right now, we just don’t know what the situation is.’’
While Thibodeau is regarded as a brilliant defensive coach and one of the best all-around mentors in the NBA, speculation is that he has worn out his welcome with his bosses, vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman.
Internal disputes, combined with the Bulls’ stagnant offense, have pointed toward a coaching change this offseason.
And now that offseason is here.