OKLAHOMA CITY -- Don't fall into the trap.
Obviously, their presence, especially that of Rose, would have helped -- but it wouldn't have changed the outcome. The Bulls' biggest issues were unrelated to the reigning MVP's absence. The issue was that unlike so many other times in the past, Tom Thibodeau's team simply got outworked and outhustled by a more aggressive squad.
"We were awful offensively, defensively, just disappointing," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "They really kicked our (butt) in every aspect of the game."
In a matchup between the teams with the best records in the league, the Thunder toyed with the Bulls the way the Bulls usually dispatch the Detroit Pistons. In certain stretches, especially late in the game, the Bulls played hard. But for the most part, the Bulls allowed the Thunder to do whatever they wanted to do on either end of the floor.
"You get what you deserve in this league," Thibodeau said, offering a common refrain. "They beat us in every facet of the game."
Thibodeau tried to take some of the blame for the way his team performed. He said that it was his fault for not having them prepared. While that may be true to a certain extent, it was evident early that the Thunder simply wanted the game more than the Bulls did. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant raced up and down the floor and wreaked havoc on a Bulls' defense that didn't respond to the first punch, an issue that irked Thibodeau more than any other.
When asked which aspect of the game disappointed him the points, Thibodeau had a quick response -- "I just thought the fight," he said.
Or lack thereof.
That was the biggest problem for the Bulls all day and the players knew it. In a marquee game, a game they wanted to win badly, they got blown out.
"It was disappointing just because they kicked our ass," Noah said. "That hasn't happened to us in a long time."
It's a valid point. When was the last time a Thibodeau-led team got outworked this badly? Sure, it's only one game, but it was against a team the Bulls could very well see later in June in the NBA finals. Thibodeau's criticism, and the one he will surely discuss with his team over the next few days, is that they can't play that way and expect to win ... no matter who is on the floor.
"Derrick's a great player, obviously we'd prefer to have him, but we have more than enough," Thibodeau said. "I was more concerned tonight with the mental aspect. I thought we made a lot of mental mistakes. And you can get beat by a quality opponent when maybe you're not making shots and you're doing all the things that you do well, and you can live with that, but I didn't think our defense was very good and when you play like that, you're basically beating yourself."
That's exactly what the Bulls did on Sunday -- and they know it.
"It's an embarrassing game," Bulls' guard Kyle Korver said. "You got your butt kicked on ABC on Sunday. But the beauty of the NBA, and especially this season, is you play again tomorrow. So hopefully we see this team again."
Just don't think things will end differently if Rose is back on the floor. If the Bulls play like they did on Sunday in the playoffs, they won't be seeing the Thunder again. They'll be sitting on their couches watching them play in the Finals.