CHICAGO (AP) — Derrick Rose vowed to learn from this, to get better, and insisted the Chicago Bulls would come back hungrier after the Miami Heat knocked them out in the Eastern Conference finals.
Clearly, the standards are soaring now.
As good as they were this season, the Bulls came up short. They blew a late 12-point lead and bowed out with a 83-80 loss to the Heat in Game 5 on Thursday.
The Bulls were aiming for more after back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round playoff exits, and did they ever get it. They boasted the league's MVP in Rose, the Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau and a league-leading 62 wins while advancing to the conference finals for the first time in 13 years.
Not since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were here had the Bulls generated such a buzz and sent expectations rocketing like this.
How they did it is well-documented. Where they go from here is the question.
For Rose, it was a disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season in which he became the league's youngest MVP and joined Jordan as the only Bulls player to win the award. If anyone could sympathize with him, Miami's LeBron James would be the guy.
"I've been in situations where I say why me at this point?" said James, searching for his first championship. "But you have to keep working and be put in those positions time after time after time where if you fail, you have to be ready to take that challenge again and again and again. When you're a leader, D-Rose — he earned the MVP. He's a great talent, unbelievable player. Chicago got not only a great basketball player, but a great kid, too. What he's done for this city and what he's done for this franchise in just three years is remarkable. The sky is the limit for that guy.
"I mean, wow, as a fan, he's going to get better and better," he continued. "Hopefully we don't have to continue to see him in the postseason."
Dwyane Wade chimed in: "We will."
And James said: "Yeah, we will."
To many, Chicago-Miami has the makings of a long rivalry. The question is whether the Bulls will be like the 1990s Jazz and Knicks, good teams that couldn't quite win it all. Or will the Heat be more like those Pistons teams of yesteryear?
Detroit eliminated the Bulls three years in a row before Jordan, Pippen and Co. swept them in the 1991 conference finals on the way to their first championship.
"A lot of us haven't been here before," forward Luol Deng said. "We've got to take this as a learning experience."
Only once since the dismantling of the dynasty following the 1997-98 championship season had the Bulls advanced past the first round. That was in 2007, when they swept defending champion Miami and lost to Detroit in six games. The only player remaining from that team is Deng.
Then again, there weren't many players left from last season by the time the Bulls were through with their makeover.
They fired coach Vinny Del Negro and replaced him with Thibodeau, a longtime respected NBA assistant who wound up making the most of his first opportunity to lead a team.
Then, with enough room to lure in two stars, they went shopping. They tried to lure some combination of James, Wade and Chris Bosh, but the Big Three decided to unite in Miami.
Instead, the Bulls wound up with power forward Carlos Boozer and a cast of role players that gave them a deep bench. Rose emerged as one of the game's top players in his third season, averaging 25 points and 7.7 assists, though he had a tough time against James and the Heat.
He averaged 23.4 points in the series, but shot just 35 percent and the Bulls had seemingly no other scoring option at crunch time.
The Bulls figured Boozer would be that guy when they acquired him, but injuries limited him to 59 games. He also disappeared at times during the playoffs after averaging 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds during the season.
A turf toe injury that cropped up during the first round against Indiana only partially explains why Boozer averaged just 12.6 points in the postseason. Things were so bad for him on Thursday that he was benched for the fourth quarter, a spectator with just five points. So was Joakim Noah.
"It hurts right now, because we really did have a chance to do something special," Noah said.
What they did wasn't bad, though. And losing to the Heat is going to linger for this team.
"I think it's going to make everybody hungry," Rose said.