Commentary

On second thought

Bulls' second-chance points demoralized favored Miami in Game 1 of East finals

Updated: May 16, 2011, 4:47 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Nine minutes remained in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday, more than enough time for the Miami Heat to whittle away a 14-point deficit. But before imploring his team to block out on the boards and move the ball on offense, coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to have his doubts.

"If you are real about winning this game ..." Spoelstra began.

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastCarlos Boozer said Taj Gibson's dunks Sunday -- like this one over Dwyane Wade -- inspired him.
It didn't seem to matter by then.

If every game and every series in an NBA postseason is made up of momentum shifts, the Bulls took this opportunity by the scruff of the neck, shaking the life out of their opponent by virtue of the kind of play that has defined them all season. Not necessarily a plethora of superior talent but the kind of energy and effort that tend to annoy and ultimately demoralize.

"It's like Thibs tells us," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of coach Tom Thibodeau's instructions to his bench, "we're not going to change anything even though it's playoff basketball. Just play the same way. Make hustle plays, inspire your team, don't throw it away."

A dominating performance by Derrick Rose might have had the Heat down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, but the Bulls' 103-82 victory was an all-out attack, overwhelming the Heat like Dr. Octopus in "Spider-Man 2." If it wasn't a monster block by Gibson, it was a dunk by Omer Asik, a 3-point dagger by Luol Deng or an offensive rebound by Joakim Noah. If it wasn't Rose, it was Ronnie Brewer or C.J. Watson. And if it wasn't a steal, it was the equally effective movement on defense or the shot block, resulting in bad shots in a second half that saw the Bulls turn a halftime tie into a 21-point blowout.

"You play defense hard, and then the shot goes up and they get the offensive rebounds, and then they kick it out and get a 3 or a layup or a dunk," said LeBron James, held mostly by Deng to 5-of-15 shooting for 15 points. "That's demoralizing for a defensive team."

Spoelstra called the Bulls' 31 second-chance points -- compared with eight by the Heat -- "relief points," 17 of which came in the second half.

"It deflated us," Spoelstra said. "It was too much to overcome. All of those tip-ins after 16 to 20 seconds of solid defense really took away some of our focus."

With nine turnovers in the first half, the Bulls were quick to point out there's plenty to improve upon for Game 2. But you'd better believe they're giddy with the early muscle-flexing.

"We just played Chicago basketball," said Carlos Boozer, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, and at one time last summer would have loved to play Miami basketball.

"It's funny, because now it's like suddenly we've proved something," Noah said. "But less than five hours ago, people thought we didn't have a chance to win the series."

Whether that chip can remain on the Bulls' shoulders and whether it's enough to withstand the Heat's next punch remains to be seen. One thing the Bulls like to talk about is playing with an edge, and it's clear that as it translates to the all-important hustle points, it is critical to their success this series. Flat performances against the Pacers and Hawks in the first two rounds were not hard to detect.

"The edge is really just coming out hungry, just coming out aggressive, just being focused from the start of the game," Deng said. "It's really, really important for us to come out like that. When our starters come out with an edge, our bench tends to do better. It gives them confidence when they come in."

The Bulls' bench had one of its best games of the postseason, certainly its most important, as the Bulls' reserves outscored the Heat's reserves 28-15 and outrebounded them 14-7 with eight assists.

"That's our job," said Gibson, who finished with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. "We have to come in and try to inspire our team some way. It's what our bench has been doing all year long."

Two Gibson dunks -- one over Wade early in the second to tie the game after the three-point play -- and the game's final exclamation point, a thunderous putback slam following a miss by Watson with less than a minute to play, definitely did the trick.

"Those two dunks Taj had, he inspired me," Boozer said. "I wish I was 22 again. When he did it, I felt like we all did it."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.