7:00 PM ET, April 24, 2007
United Center, Chicago, IL
CHICAGO -- This time, Shaquille O'Neal had nothing but praise for the opponent and the officiating.
The only finger he pointed was at himself.
The Heat are down 2-0 in their series against the Bulls. It's only the third time that the defending NBA champion has lost its first two postseason games to begin its title defense. The 1957 Philadelphia Warriors were swept out of the playoffs in a best-of-three series by the Syracuse Nationals. And the 1984 76ers lost their first two games and were eliminated in a best-of-five series by the Nets.
It's the 15th time that the defending NBA champion has been down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series; the champ has come back to win only three of the previous 14 times. The Celtics came back against the Lakers in the 1969 Finals; the Bulls beat the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals; and the Rockets beat the Suns in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals.
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"I have been around a long time and I've been in all these situations before," O'Neal said. "Basically, the Bulls did what they're supposed to do and protect their home court. We have to play smarter basketball. We got to come with a lot more energy and play with a lot more effort and a lot more passion."
Gordon scored 11 in the third quarter, hitting three 3-pointers, and the Bulls built a 17-point lead. Deng scored 14 in the fourth as Chicago sent Miami halfway to elimination.
O'Neal accused the Bulls of flopping and lashed out at referee Eddie F. Rush after Game 1, but said it was a "perfect game today" for the officials. It was anything but that for the Heat and their superstars.
O'Neal and Wade had subpar performances again after struggling through foul trouble in the opener, finishing with 17 and 21 points, respectively. O'Neal was just 6-for-14 from the floor with eight rebounds. Wade, who led a late charge in Game 1, never really got going, hitting 9-of-19. And both had seven turnovers.
"We really can't make any excuses tonight," O'Neal said. "It was a well played game. They just outplayed us. I had way too many turnovers. They shot the ball extremely well."
Trailing 85-71 through three quarters, the Heat were within seven after Wade's layup early in the fourth, but they had no answer for Deng. Quiet in the first half after scoring 33 in the opener, Deng scored the Bulls' first eight points in the fourth before Thabo Sefolosha hit a jumper that made it 95-82 midway through the quarter.
The best-of-seven series shifts to Miami for two games, with Game 3 Friday night.
"We've been here before, you know what I'm saying?" Miami's Alonzo Mourning said. "I have the utmost confidence in my teammates and this team that we can pick ourselves back up and get back on track."
Home teams that have taken the first two games in a best-of-seven series have gone on to advance 95 percent of the time, but the Heat and Bulls have bucked that trend in recent seasons.
Miami dropped the first two games at Dallas in last year's finals, then won four straight to capture the championship. Two years ago, the Bulls opened with two wins at home over Washington but lost the next four in their first playoff appearance since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era.
"We've got to be mature enough to understand that Miami has been in this situation," said Deng, who was 2-of-7 with six points in the first half. "We can't relax. We have to keep playing aggressive."
The Bulls fell into this matchup when they lost the season finale to New Jersey and dropped from the second seed to fifth. But what looked like trouble for them has, so far, looked rather easy.
As they did in Game 1, the Bulls beat the Heat with quick passes that led to open looks. They were 43-for-78 overall and 11-of-17 on 3-pointers after shooting an uncharacteristic 3-for-17 from long range in the opener.
"We don't have a choice with our ball movement game," coach Scott Skiles said. "That is the way we are constructed, and the way our guys like to play. We are not at that stage yet where we can get away from that game."
Gordon and Deng had help.
Kirk Hinrich chipped in 14 points and eight assists, after scoring two and committing five fouls in the opener.
Hinrich, who was fined $25,000 by the league for tossing his mouthpiece in Game 1, was composed and on target this time.
He and P.J. Brown (10 points) scored two baskets in the opening minute of the second half, extending the Bulls' lead to 59-52 and sending Miami into a 20-second timeout. Hinrich hit a 3 that made it 66-55 with 8:46 left in the third. The Heat called time again, but Chicago didn't stop.
It was 71-55 just over a minute later, after Brown hit a jumper and Gordon brought the crowd to its feet with a 3. The lead reached 17 when Gordon hit another 3 with 5:49 left.
Now, the Heat need another big comeback.
"[We've] always been a team when it's looking bad and we need a win we always get it and fight for it," Wade said.
Skiles expected the NBA to fine Hinrich for tossing his mouthpiece, but he was surprised the guard didn't get ejected. "What Kirk did the other [day], that's supposed to be an automatic ejection," Skiles said. "They didn't see it. Hopefully, nothing like that happens again." Skiles was also surprised the league didn't fine O'Neal for saying referee Rush "derailed" him in the opener. ... While others were quick to credit Sefolosha for containing him in the opener, Wade wasn't as generous with the praise. He said the rookie bothered him on his first shot and one other "that I can remember."
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||34-73 (.466)||43-78 (.551)|
|3PM-3PA||5-16 (.313)||11-17 (.647)|
|FTM-FTA||16-20 (.800)||10-12 (.833)|
|Fast Break Points||5||10|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||14 (0/0)||19 (0/1)|