The toughness of the Chicago Bulls has no limits.
On Monday night, this team that has been accurately described as depleted, as hurting and pushed to its limits, once again did the impossible. After a game seven victory in Brooklyn on Saturday night that in itself seemed like a miracle, the Bulls landed in South Beach and immediately made a splash by upsetting the team widely considered to be the best in basketball.
In the eyes of most analysts, it was amazing that the Bulls made it out of the first round given their luck in terms of injuries and now the illness that has befallen Luol Deng. When it comes to circumstance, Chicago could have been excused for folding at any point this postseason, but they have never relented, never changed the way they play and it has paid off in a big way.
The Bulls victory in South Beach turns this series on its head from the start. It not only shows that they don’t need a figurehead scorer in the lineup to beat the Heat or that they can make Miami play the type of game they want to play, it shows that they are just as good of a team as Miami in terms of chemistry.
That may have been the one thing there was little doubt over coming into the series, but after showing that their brand of fundamental, defensively sound basketball can take the Heat down, it’s bound to become an even bigger talking point going forward.
One area Miami needs to focus on is the paint where the play of Chris Bosh was subpar and weak. The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 48-32 and in a game where he was on the floor for 28 minutes, Bosh managed just six rebounds. Chicago shooting guard Jimmy Butler did better than doubling Bosh’s total on the night with 14 rebounds. This was the statistical evidence to back up what anyone could see, that Bosh wasn’t doing his part to represent Miami in the painted area where they were outscored 40-32.
Only LeBron James and Dwyane Wade managed to crack double digit scoring for the defending champs, a recipe the Bulls will be glad to stick to going forward. On the offensive end, most of the credit for this victory will be handed to Nate Robinson and in some ways, rightfully so.
The play of Robinson in these playoffs has been nothing short of amazing. After having one of the best quarters in playoff history against the Nets in a game four triple overtime thriller, Robinson has not slowed down a bit, rising to hit a shot that was the dagger last night against Miami along with some crucial free throws. He would finish with 27 points and 9 assists in pacing the Bulls offense.
But the player that has begun to prove himself as a cream of the crop star this postseason is Joakim Noah, who has added to the Bulls’ offense the same tenacity he brings on the defensive end. His hustle on the boards (11) in game one is part of what helped them go on a 22-7 run over the last seven minutes and created the second chance that would tie the game at 86 in the fourth quarter when he snagged an offensive rebound and immediately swung the ball out to the perimeter where it eventual ended up in the hands of Marco Belinelli in the corner.
It was just one of a handful of big plays from the 6-11 center, who at one point collected a rebound and proceeded to go coast-to-coast for a lay up. It’s plays like that and his ability to see the floor that see him emerging as one of the best passing centers in the league and a genuine All-Star.
On a given night in this postseason, this is what we can expect from the Bulls. Noah and Robinson will show up, all they need is one other guy to chip in offensively and the team as a whole is so good defensively that they can beat anyone. On Monday, it was Butler coming up big with 21 points. Tomorrow it may be Belinelli or Carlos Boozer. If Deng can return in time for game three perhaps it’s him. It doesn’t matter who, just that someone does step up to be the third scorer, the alternate playmaker.
This Bulls team has changed the series with a game one win that sets down a marker saying “don’t under estimate us.” Their confidence is at an all time high and Miami realizes now just what they have on their hands. Perhaps it was just a bit of rust from the defending champs. After all, they have been sitting around for a bit after disposing of Milwaukee so easily. But facing the Bulls at the United Center where they were 26-15 this season and can draw energy from one of the largest crowds in the NBA is now an even more daunting task for James and Wade because they will be on even ground.
Home court advantage has shifted in Chicago’s favor, something that could prove a big factor going forward considering Miami is still the favorite to take the series. If you asked the Bulls players what they would like to have achieved in games one and two, the realistic ones would say split the games and go home 1-1. They can now check that box and rest a little easier knowing that while game three is pivotal, a loss doesn’t bury them in a whole they can’t get out of.