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In 2008, I had the chance to attend Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. I arrived late (I know, I know, I'm a bad fan - all I can say is I'll try to do better), and found that Mark DeRosa had launched an opposite field home run in the second inning and the Cubs led 2-0 in the third.
The place was lousy with optimism. It was palpable. The Cubs had won 97 games that season, we were clearly better than the team from Southern California, and we were led by master strategist Lou Piniella. It was only a matter of time before the team recorded the three necessary victories over the Dodgers and moved on to what we were sure would be better things in the National League Championship Series and then maybe even the World Series.
One problem, though: Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster wasn't particularly sharp. He had already handed out several bases on balls and, then in the fifth, he walked the bases loaded. Up stepped young Dodger first baseman James Loney and just like that, the walks came a cropper. Loney launched a grand slam and in an instant a two-run lead became a two-run deficit.
And in another instant, tens of thousands of Cubs fans shut it down. Again, it was palpable. How could we have been so stupid as to have believed in this team?
Of course we were going to lose again, just as we had every single, stinkin' season for the previous century. How many times were we going to do this to ourselves?
Sure enough, the Dodgers went on to win that game 7-2 and swept the best-of-five series in what seemed like record time.
I was reminded of this experience Monday night at the Bulls game - to a lesser degree, to be sure, but similar in kind.
When I arrived, that irrational sense of optimism was already gone with the Bulls already down double-digits (still a bad fan - I have excuses I swear but already in retrospect they do not suffice). A familiar sense of resignation filled the arena the rest of the way; it had been silly to get our hopes up about winning this game and evening the series. Instead, the Heat won 88-65 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
And now we know we are going down again.
Of course this Bulls team has already thrilled with three glorious playoff victories in particular. The triple-overtime Nate Robinson Show in Game 4 against the Nets goes down in heroic local sports lore, as does the Game 7 victory in Brooklyn (unbelievably, the franchise's first-ever Game 7 win on the road) and the stunning Game 1 triumph in Miami.
Of course, this Bulls team doesn't carry a century of baggage like that 2008 Cubs team did. But last night was a simple thrashing put on a Chicago team by a Miami team that is clearly, simply better.
The thing we will never know is whether this Bulls team could have knocked off the Heat with a healthy Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. (I'm not even talking about Derrick Rose here because he chose to never even enter the discussion of on-court matters this season despite hanging around the whole way - a neat trick really.)
Hinrich and Deng could have made a difference; could have accounted for another victory or maybe even two against LeBron James' squad. But one suspects they wouldn't have put the Bulls over the top. And if they had been there, that first glorious victory in Miami would have been a little less so.
And so the Chicago sports fan moves on.
Good luck with the rest of your rehab, Derrick. We hope you figure out sooner rather than later that you've had unrealistic expectations for your return (that the knee would at some point actually feel better than it did before you hurt it), and that you just need to get out there and play at this point.
There is always next year.
* Tribune: Bulls Hit New Lows In Blowout Loss To Heat.
* Sportige: Nate Robinson Finally Runs Out Of Luck & Confidence.
* New York Times: Heat Take Control From The Start.
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