By Diego Quezada
For much of the first quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls appeared to pick up right where they left off after their 21-point blowout win Sunday night. The Bulls grabbed offensive rebounds and made second-chance baskets. Luol Deng even hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to put Chicago up 26-19.
That was before the Heat’s co-captain came into the game.
Udonis Haslem had only made cameo appearances in two playoff games coming into Game 2, but foul trouble for Joel Anthony forced Erik Spoelstra’s hand. Haslem grabbed four rebounds in the first half, but made his presence felt in the third quarter. Haslem blocked a Derrick Rose shot to ignite a fast-break. Running in transition, Mike Bibby found a streaking Haslem for a thunderous dunk over Keith Bogans. A little more than a minute later, the eight-year veteran made a nice dunk over Rose.
The inspired play from Haslem helped the Heat build an 11-point lead, but the Bulls stormed right back, tying the game at 73 in the fourth quarter. After both teams failed to make a basket against tenacious defense, LeBron James took over. He made a 3 to break the tie and then executed a pick-and-roll with Dwyane Wade to make a short jumper over Rose. Like in Game 5 of the Heat’s series against the Boston Celtics, James was unstoppable, leading the Heat to an 85-75 win to tie this series at 1-1 and steal home-court advantage away from the Bulls.
All of the memories of the Game 1 debacle now appear distant. If the Heat take care of business in Miami – and this team has yet to lose in South Beach during the playoffs – then the most hated team in the NBA will go back to Chicago with a 3-1 edge. The Heat lost their first four games to the Bulls this season, but now the Big Three and Company should feel great about how they won this game.
The Heat played stifling defense, holding the Bulls to just 3-of-20 shooting from downtown and limiting Rose to a 7-for-23 shooting night. Miami out-rebounded Chicago, with Wade, James and Chris Bosh combining for 27 of the Heat’s 45 boards. And Spoelstra has to like that in the fourth quarter, Miami executed nice plays and forced the Bulls out of their comfort zone.
James finished with 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the field, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals. The two-time MVP did miss four free throws and turned the ball over five times, but that just proved that he’s human. His late display, scoring nine points in the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, was amazing. James also played 46 minutes in the game and defended Rose in the final stretches of the fourth period.
Wade had a solid game in his own right, playing 40 minutes and finishing with 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 shooting from the line. Wade also grabbed nine boards and blocked two shots, coming up with some key defensive plays. When Rose and Deng collaborated for a pick-and-roll, Wade and James seamlessly switched and played great defense.
The Heat also received some help from the rest of the team. Bosh didn’t receive as many opportunities as he had in Game 1, but shot 4-of-8 from the field and grabbed eight boards. Haslem had 13 points and five boards; he looked just as good as the Haslem of the past. After playing for a while, Haslem came up short on a few jumpers he drained earlier in the game, but UD could give the Heat 15-20 solid minutes off the bench. He almost has rode in on a shining horse to give Miami a boost.
Mike Miller also received a lot more playing time, logging 18 minutes and grabbing seven boards. In the fourth quarter, Miller became an offensive liability, though. Spoelstra put in Bibby for Miller just before the Heat’s decisive run. James Jones only played 107 seconds, and Chalmers only lasted five first-half minutes, so it will be interesting to see how much this rotation changes.
The Heat will look to take the lead in this series Sunday night at 8:30.
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