Heat prove Game 1 an aberration
Anybody who thought the East title wouldn't be hard-earned was mistaken
CHICAGO -- Forget the Bulls' 21-point drubbing of Miami in Game 1.
Ancient history. Also, an aberration.
What, you expected this be easy, Bulls fans?
Real Bulls playoff basketball, scrappy, defensive, the nets-will-not-be-torched BullyBall, was on partial display Wednesday. I say partial because it was missing a few key components.
Chicago had good stretches of defense, pockets of rebounding dominance, fits of competency on offense, and two standout bench players.
But enough was missing from the Bulls' usual repertoire that the Heat were able to close out an 85-75 win and steal home-court advantage going back to South Florida for a Sunday night game.
What was absent?
Derrick Rose's deadly floater, for one; for the second straight game, he was limited going to the rim. His teammates couldn't help him out. Only Taj Gibson, who scored eight second-half points, had a pulse at the end.
The Bulls' rebounding edge was gone, too. In Game 1, they had a 45-33 rebounding edge -- 19-6 on the offensive glass. On Wednesday night, Miami won that battle, 45-41.
Was this the dreaded Curse of Oprah? "You get a butt-whipping! You get a Tom Thibodeau tongue-lashing!"
Nah. This game was more like a heavy dose of reality. A return to terra firma was bound to happen for a team that was flying high after a Game 1 thrashing of the Heat.
"Coach always talks about this, where the playoffs is going to challenge you in every way possible," Rose said.
After a lackluster Game 1, James and Wade combined for 53 points in the Heat's series-tying win, with James scoring nine points in an otherwise offensively atrocious fourth quarter. While Chris Bosh had 10 points and eight rebounds in 42:18, the resurrected Udonis Haslem was the X factor, scoring 15 points off the bench, nine in the game-changing third quarter.
Wade and James attacked the basket, going a combined 9-for-11 at the rim, according to Hoopdata's advanced stats, and 5-for-10 from 3 to 9 feet.
In the previous game, the duo was 5-for-10 at the rim, and 2-for-5 from 3 to 9 feet.
I guess they really do everything together.
ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell explains why he thinks the Bulls should be worried after losing to the Heat in Game 2.
While James had enough to carry the Heat in the fourth, the Bulls had nothing left as Rose looked dog-tired and the defense collapsed after a strong comeback from a third-quarter deficit. Chicago scored a measly 10 points in the fourth, with just one basket in the final seven minutes. The Heat's defense had a lot to do with it.
"They came in and punched us in the mouth," Taj Gibson said. "We're going to give them their praise, but we've got another game coming up."
The only way to counterpunch is by shooting better. The Bulls had good looks, and many of the shots simply rimmed out. But great teams find a way to get to the line. Actually, the Bulls did that, they just couldn't convert, missing 10 of 26 free throws.
"We never worry about missed shots," said Luol Deng, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half. "We're really not. In the playoffs, you're going to have nights where you make shots and nights where you miss shots. You got to fight, have the will to fight. We did a good job of fighting back. But they won the fight tonight."
The game was tied at 73-73 after a Gibson dunk with 7:16 to go. The Bulls had trailed by 11 in the third, so the comeback itself is a positive. After that, neither team scored for nearly three minutes, until James canned a 3, and the Bulls never got any closer.
Thanks to that 4-for-16 fourth, the Bulls finished the game shooting 34.2 percent (28-for-82). Chicago started off with a healthy rebounding advantage before losing that battle along with the game.
"We had some pretty good looks that we missed," said Joakim Noah, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds in 31:30. "You know when you get outrebounded and you shoot 34 percent, it's hard to win. We definitely had our chances and it's on us."
Rose missed all four of his shots in the fourth and split four free throw attempts. He shot 7-for-23, and for the second straight game was mostly ineffective inside. He went 2-for-4 at the rim and 0-7 from 3 to 9 feet. His jumper wasn't bad, but his game lacked its usual spark. Mostly, he didn't strike fear into anyone with his penetration.
"I definitely got to try to play the same way, driving," Rose said. "I didn't shoot that many floaters tonight like I usually do, especially against tall defenders. I missed a lot of shots that I normally hit."
The Bulls were sullen after the game, lamenting a missed opportunity. This loss did nothing for the team's confidence, so that's a good thing for Chicago.
"I feel like we just let one go," Gibson said. "We had that team down, shut them down in the fourth a little bit, and it was a tie ballgame for awhile. We just had a letdown late on defense."
With defense in mind, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau rode Gibson and Omer Asik in the second half, playing them together for an 11:45 stretch -- from the 4:21 mark in the third until 4:36 was left in the game.
Gibson and Asik were part of a somewhat surprising five-man unit that closed out the Bulls' 95-83 win in Game 5 against Atlanta.
In this game, the Bulls were down seven when those two came in, and the game was tied when Noah came in for Asik, who throttled the Heat's driving game with his presence. Not to be ignored, after a sluggish third quarter, Carlos Boozer sat for the entire fourth.
While the Bulls need a better effort from Boozer and Noah, especially on defense, Thibodeau would be wise to use the Asik-Gibson tandem again. He should also, if I may be so bold, get C.J. Watson a few more minutes. I know it's seemingly impossible to sit Rose, but Watson played very well in Game 1, but he didn't sniff the floor in the second half of Game 2.
Maybe Watson's fresh legs could've helped. The Bulls scored only 29 second-half points. In Game 1, they won the second half, 55-34.
As Rose said, "It was one of those nights."
After two games, the Bulls and Heat are about where you'd figure them to be: tied up. It didn't happen exactly how you'd picture it, but there is sure to be a lot of basketball left in this series, and many more twists, turns and Asik body blocks.
"We're definitely confident," Rose said. "I know we can't wait to go out there and play again. We're the type of team where when things get tough, we stay together. We're not going different ways."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.