By Carl Mayer
Game 2 has been a bit of a sore subject for those in Horns To The Hardwood's inner circle, but we're hardly calling the defeat a sign of the rapture (sorry loyal readership on the day's late reference).
In spite of the stomping dispensed in the series opener, most believed that Chicago was in for a real fight with Miami, even the most devoted Bulls fans and followers. The difficulty of the task was evident in Chicago's 85-75 defeat Wednesday night. Miami clamped down the defense late in the 4th, Chicago missed a number of heartbreaking rim outs, the whistles returned, and the breaks Chicago caught game 1 seemed to go Miami's way game 2 in some sort of karmic balancing act. Sort of.
Wednesday's contest was the kind of game that Chicago would have won in the first round against Indiana, which lulled me and others into a false sense of security. They showed well in the first quarter which was capped off by Luol Deng's scintillating half court shot. After that, it wasn't a night and day drop off in performance on defense or effort, but merely incremental breakdowns.
Chicago still played their typical brand of basketball on defense, while Miami's offense was much the same throughout. There were times when Chicago's defense looked the strongest we've seen this post season. In spite of 9 more trips to the foul line, Miami still only scored 3 more points - its not as though they ever ran away and hid with their offensive production. Whatever steps Wade and James took in offensive production were given back by Bosh's relatively small 10 point effort. Chicago simply didn't hit shots. Low post scoring did not happen in the same kind of regularity or efficiency, the Bulls posted a miserable 61% effort from the foul line, and the 3's didn't fall.
Part of it was poor luck, much of it was timely defending by Miami, including a critical double team on Luol in the 4th. Spoelstra deserves a cookie for playing LeBron on Rose. The lane wasn't as open for Derrick, and the outside shooting he deferred to wasn't clicking. Likewise Udonis Haslem went from throw-in scrub to impact bench player, contributing 13 and 5 in an unexpected 23 minute relief appearance while providing the kind of spark Taj Gibson gave the Bulls earlier in the series. Give credit where it is due; Miami played enough defense to earn the victory. Still, I can't help but feel that if Chicago and Miami both play with that kind of effort and focus 7 times, Chicago wins 4.
Now Chicago finds itself on the road with the task of taking back home court advantage. Miami's crowd is notoriously sporadic, so it will be interesting to see what kind of energy and vibe is in the arena tonight. Bulls fans have traveled well throughout this year; will Miami's crowd be "late arriving" per Reggie Miller's assessment throughout the year, or will they clamp down with the so-called "White Out"? Likewise, which Boozer is Chicago getting, and just how healthy is he with this toe injury? He's had moments where his jumper is on, and he put together a pair of solid performances dating back to game 6 in Atlanta, but its clear that he's not the strong presence we signed him to be down low right now. Whether that is due to health, age, or player psychology remains to be seen, but flaws or not, Chicago plays better when he's a double digit scorer, and needs more 18+ point efforts from him going forward.
Furthermore, Korver is due to rekindle some of the magic we saw from him in the first round. Eventually his rim outs will start to fall. We just can't afford that eventuality to be 2-3 more games down the road. The defense will be there, and this team's demeanor is such that they'll take Miami's best shots, whether its driving the lane or trying to run the floor with flashy oop plays. Its time to start hitting shots, and take some of the load off of Rose and Deng, who are showing signs of wearing down.
Stat of the Day:
Chicago avoided being called for a defensive three second violation Wednesday night, snapping an 8 game streak.
Probable Miami Starters:
G – Mike Bibby, 3.6 PPG
G – D’Wayne Wade, 25.3 PPG
F – Lebron James, 25.4 PPG
F – Chris Bosh, 16.9 PPG
C – Joel Anthony, 3.5 PPG
Probable Chicago Starters:
G – Derrick Rose, 28.2 PPG
G – Keith Bogans, 5.2 PPG
F – Luol Deng, 16.8 PPG
F – Carlos Boozer, 11.6 PPG
C – Joakim Noah, 9.8 PPG
Current Line: Chicago (+4.5), Over/Under at 178.5
Somehow, I expect Miami to try and intimidate Chicago again by running the court early, and again I expect it to fail. They'll get a couple easy buckets, but Chicago is too sound and too rested to get burned physically or mentally. Thibs really seems to have this group plugged into the team concept more than Miami, and I expect Chicago's field goal percentage to have a 4 in front instead of a 3 thanks to ball movement and better luck with the rim. I'll push conspiracy theories aside when discussing why the Western Conference finals crammed two games in between the East's and instead be thankful for the rest for #1 and #9 in particular. Don't have a particularly strong conviction in this one. Gut feeling is a "L" thanks to home court and a greater sense of universal entropy/story writing, brain tells me this is the kind of game Chicago wins. Expect this one to be the closest game yet, and the physicality to take another step.
Bulls 94 Heat 91
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