Alex Caruso Reflects on Bulls' Play-In Tournament Collapse Versus Heat

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Alex Caruso Gets Candid on the Bulls’ Play-In Tournament Collapse Against the Heat

Chicago Bulls

It wasn’t Alex Caruso’s fault.

Shockingly finishing as the team’s second-leading scorer (16 pts), Caruso played his same old hard-nosed game during the Bulls’ second Play-In Tournament matchup. He went 4-8 from downtown for a team that desperately needed a spark behind the arc and was a key reason why the Bulls were in a position to win with roughly 8 minutes to go. But we all know what happened next.

Miami went on a 27-10 run to steal the game out from underneath Chicago 102-91. Jimmy Butler’s tough and-one basket with 2:17 left in the game gave the Heat a lead they would never relinquish. As far as Caruso is concerned, it was that final frame that changed everything for a team now one win away from becoming the first Play-In squad to make the NBA Finals.

“To be fair, the Heat from that 4th quarter on, they’ve been a different team than they were all season,” Caruso said on a recent episode of JJ Redick’s Podcast The Old Man & The Three. “They didn’t play like that during the regular season when we beat them on opening night and when we beat them late in the season at our place. They flipped a switch and did something.”

The First-Team All-Defense member is right.

No one would have been that shocked if Miami missed the playoffs altogether based on the way they performed during the regular season. While their defense ranked a solid 9th in the league, their offense sat in the bottom five. We watched them lose all three of their games to Caruso and the Bulls this season, and they were on pace to make it a fourth before Eric Spoelstra found some Secret Stuff leftover from the 2019 bubble.

“Yeah, that Play-In game hurts, especially since I think that I played pretty well. And it always hurts when you think you play well,” Caruso said. “We didn’t make any shots in the 4th, and we just gave up too many paint points. And Jimmy is just a master of gettinging to the stuff that he gets to. Definitely missed opportunity.”

On one hand, it is hard to blame Chicago for losing to the team that is about to make the NBA Finals. On the other hand, describing it as a missed opportunity is simply correct. While I’d never sit here and tell you that I’m confident the Bulls would have beaten the Bucks, I do think they would have given them a more competitive series than last year.

Not to mention, we’ve seen how unpredictable these playoffs have been. All it takes is one injury or one breakout performance to survive and advance! Now, with that said, what Caruso said next served as a great reminder of why the Bulls would have never replicated anything close to this epic Heat run.

“If I’m being candid with you, I thought the Raptors game was going to be the more difficult game for us to win. Just the first one, we never play well in Toronto, and then moving from that I had a lot of confidence … just came up short. It was one of those years for us too where that was kind of our MO. We were just a little up and down and we were down at the wrong time.”

Is anyone else a bit put off by knowing that Caruso thought the Raptors game would be more difficult? Perhaps this is something he’s simply saying in hindsight, but perhaps it also provides us with a closer look at the Bulls’ mindset heading into that game. And it’s the exact mindset that we saw plague this group time and again this season.

The Bulls would repeatedly find themselves underestimating their opponent(s). They seemed to waltz into games far too comfortably, and I fear that feeling may have started to creep in during the 4th quarter of that Miami game.

Alas, I guess all we can do now is hope that this taught both the players and the front office a valuable lesson as they approach an absolutely crucial offseason.

You can listen to the full podcast here:

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.