Hold on one second, I’m still adding up all the fouls from last game. 51 personal fouls, nine technicals, two ejections and one flagrant. According to my math that adds up to…one lopsided victory.
Lots of people said this is what “playoff basketball” is all about, but it’s a stretch to say that what the Bulls were doing for parts of Game 2 can be considered basketball. Chicago shot 35.5 percent, while Miami hit 60.0 percent from the field. Look at any stat from Wednesday night and the Bulls would be losing in it, unless it was “players thrown out.” Thanks for that Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (although when they got tossed the game was out of reach).
“Not only Joakim, but our entire team,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to do better, do a better job with that. You can’t get sidetracked. We know how it’s going to be called. We’re not going to get calls. We just got to be tough mentally, physically, emotionally. We’ve got to be a lot stronger.”
Although the calls didn’t go their way, and probably won’t even with the series shifting to Chicago, the Bulls might gain something out of getting under Miami’s skin. Anytime LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company are thinking more about a hard foul or revenge than playing basketball, that’s an advantage for the over-matched Bulls. Chicago won’t get the superstar calls in this series, but they can irritate those superstars and hope to know them out of their game.
But this time, Chicago needs to keep their cool and know when to stop, because they can’t afford to lose anyone to an ejection with all of their injuries.
Luol Deng probably won’t be able to go again. “I don’t know. I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do,” he said. “I just, I haven’t done anything.” Deng apparently lost 15 pounds because of his recent illness. I think the Bulls should play it safe and shut Deng down. It’s not worth risking his health any more. Losing that much weight in such a short amount of time is bizarre.
But of course, that won’t happen. “Still day to day. He’s feeling a little bit better,” Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ll see tomorrow.” I don’t know if Thibs is just pretending like he will play Lu to mess with Miami or whether he thinks Deng might actually be healthy enough to go. I truly hope it’s the former. Everyone praises Thibodeau’s never say die attitude—it’s gotten them to the second round of the playoffs and tied 1-1 with the Heat—but this is a case which you should worry about the player more than the game.
The 15 pounds loss is scary, but the fact that this is still lingering for Deng is even worse. “I’m weak and I have headaches,” he said Thursday. “When I’m moving around a lot, my headaches increase.” Sounds like facing the Heat would be the perfect answer to this, right? The timing is unfortunate, but Deng looks to be out the rest of the series.
While on the topic of injuries, Kirk Hinrich had a second MRI on his calf and is still listed as doubtful.
No Deng means Jimmy Butler is stuck with the task of guarding LeBron James the rest of the way. LeBron had his way in the first quarter of Game 2, going 6-6 for 12 points. For the game, James was 6-7 at the rim, 0-2 from midrange and 1-3 from beyond the arc. It’s easier said than done, and it takes an entire team, but keeping James away from the basket is going to be the key for Game 3.
Not only does he score at a high rate at the rim, but when he drives the defense is forced to collapse, which leads shooters open. Miami, who as a team was 24-29 at the basket, also hit 50 percent of their threes. That was up from 29.2 percent in Game 1.
Stopping Miami is just part of the battle, because if the Bulls can’t score like they couldn’t in Game 2, the defense won’t matter. Only Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson made more than four field goals in the game and Gibson (4-6) was the only Bulls player with more than five field goal attempts to shoot 50 percent or better. Miami had six such players. Chicago’s offense doesn’t have any secrets–Nate Robinson has to create, Butler and Belinelli have to hit open shots and Noah has to facilitate.
But the guy who has been a no-show so far in the second round is (not surprisingly) Carlos Boozer. Boozington is 6-20, and even though he is being guarded by Shane Battier for stretches, he refuses to drive. Boozer has to stop settling for midrange jumpers, especially if it’s not falling. If he doesn’t start putting the ball in the basket somehow, the Bulls could be in for another possible blowout.
“It’s just one game,” LeBron said. “Even though you got dominated the game before and you didn’t do things right, it’s still one game. You don’t get two wins if you win by over 30 or over 40. You only get one game.
The Bulls got dominated in Game 3, but it’s still an even series and Tom Thibodeau has always been good at getting them to respond to losses—and after Chicago was embarrassed last time out, they should be hungry to prove they deserve to be here.
Clearly, the Heat were not pleased about losing Game 1.
As a result, Chicago fans were treated to one of the worst debacles in franchise history: a 37-point loss in which the Bulls were -13 on the boards, -18 in fast break points, -21 in points off turnovers, -25 in field goal percentage and -38 in points in the paint.
It was Miami’s largest margin of victory for a postseason game. And Chicago’s worst-ever playoff defeat.
The Heat scored 130.7 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference) and used a 62-20 run (not a typo) bridging the first and second halves to crush the Bulls like insects on a windshield.
Chicago’s performance wasn’t all that got ugly in this one. There were elbows and shoves galore on both sides. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson each received two technical fouls and both were ejected in the third quarter. Nate Robinson and and Marquis Teague were also T’d up. On Miami’s side, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers all got techs.
A total of nine technical fouls in one game. And there probably could have been more. According to ESPN Stats and Information: “There were nine player technical fouls called, the most combined in a playoff game since May 7, 1995, when the Pacers and Knicks also combined for nine. The six player technical fouls by the Bulls were the most by any team in the last 20 postseasons.”
Oh, right, and the officiating was terrible overall.
The Heat put their talent on display and quick whistles prevented the Bulls from establishing the grind-it-out rhythm they prefer. James (32 minutes, 19 points, 7-for-12, 9 assists) and Wade (28 minutes, 15 points, 7-for-11, 5 assists) looked like men among boys. Norris Cole (18 points, 7-for-9, 6 rebounds) and Ray Allen (21 points, 5-for-7 from the field, 10-for-10 from the line) were nearly perfect off Miami’s bench.
And the Bulls? They may as well have caught a flight back to Chicago after Game 1.
Yes. The Heat are that good.
Yes. At times, the Bulls can be that bad.
Don’t forget, Chicago was still without Derrick Rose (knee rehab), Kirk Hinrich (calf injury) and Luol Deng (illness). And the Bulls season was full of Jeckyll and Hyde performances, beating an elite team one night, losing to a lottery team the next.
The Bulls have been facing and overcoming adversity all season by sheer force of will. Last night, their collective will was cracked by the combination of Miami’s great play and their own frustration with the officials.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: ”You come in here, you’re not gonna get calls and that’s the reality. Instead of sprinting back to get set we’re complaining to the official and they’re laying it in. … We got sidetracked and you can’t do that. … You have to have poise under pressure. You can’t allow [calls] to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job.”
The Bulls were unhinged and the Heat pounced on them. From Miami’s perspective, it was like a feeding frenzy, with plenty of red in the water.
Added Gibson: ”We lost our composure as a team. Things weren’t going our way. You’re going to get frustrated, especially when you’re getting blown out.”
The Bulls will bounce back. Thibodeau will demand it. He will not allow his players to bemoan foul calls or rough play. He won’t accept them letting the Heat be the aggressors. These are reasons — among others — that the Bulls have almost always followed a lousy performance with a strong one.
That’s not to say the Bulls will win Game 3. But they’ll sure play one hell of a lot better than they did in Game 2.
The question is: will they do it without Gibson? There remains some question about whether the profanity-laden outburst will lead to a suspension.
Said Gibson: ”I hope they just see that it was frustration. I have a good accord with [referee] Scott [Foster]. It’s one of those games that’s chippy; it’s playoff basketball, words are going to be said. I don’t mean any harm to Scott. He’s a good referee sometimes. Just got to keep pushing and move forward.
“I should have ended it a better way, and conducted myself in a better way and just walked away. It’s just frustration.”
There was plenty to be frustrated about. But Game 2 is over. On to Game 3.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): LeBron James pretty efficiently sliced the Bulls defense, scoring 19 points on 7-12 from the field, and also posted five rebounds and nine assists. He did this all in 32 minutes. Unlike in Game 1 where LeBron was content to facilitate early, the MVP was attacking from the start Wednesday night. James was 6-6 for 12 points in the first quarter, with two assists and two steals.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Pick your favorite (or least favorite) Chicago player. Carlos Boozer was 3-9 and refused to drive to the basket even though his jumper was off and he had Shane Battier guarding him for stretches. Non-savior Nate Robinson showed up, as he went 3-10 and turned the ball over four times. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson both lost their cool and got tossed in the fourth, long after the game was lost. Marco Belinelli shot 4-13 as no Bull scored more than 13 points.
X factor: The Bulls pride themselves on defending the paint and the three-point line. Tonight they did neither.Miami scored 56 points in the paint, compared to just 18 for the Bulls. As a matter of fact, the Heat had 16 points in the paint in the third quarter, nearly topping Chicago’s effort for the game in 12 minutes. And after missing lots of open shots in Game 1, Miami shook off the rust. They hit 9-18 from deep, led by Norris Cole (4-4).
That was … terrible: It was the Heat’s largest margin of victory in a playoff game, as well as the Bulls’ largest margin of defeat.Chicago shot 35.5 percent, while Miami hit at a 60.0 percent clip. Miami had 29 assists, the Bulls had 17.Every stat was in favor of the Heat except “number of players tossed.” With all that said, this only counts as one loss and the series is even going back to Chicago. The Bulls have a lot of adjustments to make, but that’s what Tom Thibodeau does.
No Deng, no Hinrich, no Rose? No problem. Against the Miami Heat, winners of 41 of their last 43 heading into Game 1? Seriously, no problem. The Bulls have Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli to fill in after all, that should be more than enough. And surprisingly to outsiders, it was enough as the Bulls took Game 1 and stole home-court advantage from the top seed.
It’s hard to say how many believers this team has outside of the actual members of the team.
The Bulls have every right to be content with where they are in the playoffs. No one expected them to win 45 games in the regular season with all their injuries. No one would have blamed them if they had failed to make the second round without their star player and with others facing injuries as well. This season is already considered a success—but the Bulls continue to fight and scrap because they aren’t content.
That starts with Tom Thibodeau, who, for good and bad, never thinks the Bulls are out of a game. And Joakim Noah has had the same mindset his entire career. Nate Robinson has it as well. He also believes every shot he takes is going in, which causes problems. Although, if there is one thing the Bulls have needed this year it is just that: a confident scorer.
Robinson came up huge in Game 1, scoring 29 points, including the final seven for the Bulls, to go with nine assists and ten stitches in his busted up lip. Robinson’s scoring, Jimmy Butler’s defense and Noah’s everything helped the Bulls pull off the huge upset because not a single one of those guys will back down.
And because of that mindset, Chicago has had recent success against the Heat. In Miami’s last 44 games this season they are 2-2 against Chicago, and 39-1 against other teams. At this point, the Heat know the Bulls go all out every time they meet, so there is no excuse for Miami to get caught off guard.
Even though the Bulls struck first, they still have a ton of work left—and history is not on their side. In each of the other two times the Heat fell behind 1-0 in a playoff series in the Bosh/James/Wade era, they went on to sweep the next four games. That includes last year’s NBA Finals, with the Thunder, as well as the last time the Bulls met the Heat, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We haven’t lost in a while, so it was very different to come in here and deal with a loss and to deal with it in the playoffs at home,” Wade said after a practice. “It was different from the standpoint of what we’ve been used to lately, but not anything different from what we’ve been used to as a team. We’ve been in tough moments. We’ve lost games before.”
Although the Heat have obviously lost before, the Bulls did some things that Miami hasn’t seen much this season. Chicago scored 35 points in the fourth quarter, the most the Heat have given up in a quarter all year. Miami also shot 39.7 percent from the field, it’s second-worst showing this season.
All eyes will be on Miami tonight, to see if they make the adjustments necessary to even the series, and that starts with hitting open shots. Shane Battier, normally reliable from deep went 2-7 from beyond the arc as Miami struggled overall, shooting 7-24 (29.2 percent) from long range.
Jimmy Butler will have the task of slowing LeBron James again after doing a solid job of it in Game 1. James wasn’t looking for his shot early, seeming content to be a facilitator (he finished with eight assists). That changed in the second half, as James finished with 24 points and got to the line nine times. Luol Deng has not yet made it to Miami, so he will join the team when they return to Chicago. Whether or not he will play in this series is still unknown.
Kirk Hinrich is a game-time decision for Wednesday with his calf injury, but is considered doubtful to play.
Playing without guys has become old hat for the Bulls. Let’s see how they do playing from in front.
If you’re currently experiencing an intense and overwhelming feeling of stunned amazement at what they Bulls are doing in these playoffs, don’t be alarmed.
It indicates only that you are still sane.
You know the drill by now. The Bulls are a depleted team. No Derrick Rose. Kirk Hinrich is day-to-day with a bum calf. Luol Deng had a spinal tap last week and tweeted a picture from his hospital bed last night. Joakim Noah (plantar faciitis) and Taj Gibson (knee) are playing through injuries. Gibson and Nate Robinson recently battled the flu.
All that and two days after winning a do-or-die Game 7 on the road, the Bulls had to face the defending (and presumed future) champs in Miami.
Mission impossible, right?
Never impossible. Not with this group. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau ripped the page with the word “quit” right out of the team dictionary, burned it, and buried the ashes.
At times, Thibodeau’s mantra of “more than enough to win” has seemed laughable in the face of the many injuries and misfortunes that have plagued the Bulls this season. But it instilled a sense of commitment and responsibility in every player on this team, from the front of the bench all the way to the end of it.
Take Nate Robinson.
The Bulls signed Robinson last summer as a last-minute afterthought. He was supposed to be a part-time player at best. With Rose and Hinrich both out, Robinson started at point guard, playing 40 minutes and 29 seconds. Little Nate finished with game-highs in points (27) and assists (9). He had more free throw attempts (10) than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined (9). According to ESPN Stats and Information, Robinson became the fourth Bulls player in the past 25 seasons to have at least 25 points and 9 dimes in a playoff game, joining Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, and Scottie Pippen.
Not bad company. Especially considering Robinson is doing it for a little over $800,000 this season.
But wait, there’s more. Robinson scored or assisted on 25 of Chicago’s 35 fourth quarter points…and he scored 7 in the team’s 10-0 run to close the game. His clutch performance made him the only player in the last 15 seasons with at least 11 points and 6 assists in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. All this despite getting 10 stitches mid-game after busting his lip in a loose ball collision.
Said Thibodeau: ”He got knocked around a little bit, couple stitches, it’s all good. Get out there and get it done. … He’s about as confident as they come, and that’s the thing that makes him good. If he misses a shot, he has a very short memory. He always thinks he’s hot, never afraid, and will step up in a big situation. He has the courage to take and make.”
Now take Jimmy Butler.
Forget Robert Downey Jr. Butler is Iron Man. Incredibly enough, the second year man out of Marquette has played the full 48 minutes for three straight games, making him only the fourth player since the NBA-ABA merger to go the limit in back-to-back-to-back playoff games (per Elias Sports Bureau). In his previous two games, he spent those long minutes guarding Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Last night he guarded LeBron and D-Wade all night. While contributing 21 points (on only 13 shots) and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Said Butler: “It’s all about being tough. We’re always going to be the underdogs. We take pride in that. Everybody can overlook us, but we feel like we’re good enough to hang with a lot of these teams. I talked to Lu before the game. He was like, ‘Take up his space, make everything tough for him, challenge every shot.’ Of course, no layups. I feel I don’t want to give layups to anybody, make them earn it from the stripe. Lu’s going to rest up and we want him back. But until (then) I guess I’ll be stuck guarding him.”
As Huey Lewis might tell Butler: The Bulls and their fans are happy to be stuck with you.
Said Noah: ”I’m really proud of him. [He's a] young player, but he played huge against the best. He’s like a brother and to see him shine the way he’s been shining in these playoffs … I knew he was ready but the sky’s the limit for that kid.”
Added Gibson: “He’s really talented and he goes out there and does the job, doesn’t talk back, just grits it out each and every night and he’s getting better each game I think. … He understands his role, he understands what this team needs. Whenever we’re down we can always count on Jimmy. Without Lu in there Jimmy just stepped up big and we just helped him. Whenever a guy needs help, we just help each other out.”
Helping each other out. That’s what this team does.
Whether it’s Noah with a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot) and great interior defense, or Marco Belinelli hitting the boards (7 rebounds) to make up for his poor shooting (3-for-10) or Gibson giving the team a big lift off the bench (12 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, +9).
And there there was the defense.
In the first quarter, Miami was held to only 15 points on 5-for-19 shooting. They improved only marginally in the second quarter (8-for-20). The Heat did shoot 50 percent (10-for-20) in the third quarter, but they were only 8-for-19 in the fourth, including 0-for-5 in the final two minutes.
For the game, Miami shot a miserable 39.7 percent, including 29.2 percent from three-point range.
Most importantly, the Heat converted only 59 percent of their shots at the rim, per Hoopdata. Mind you, Miami led the league in field goal percentage at the rim during the regular season at 71.5 percent.
The Bulls played great individual and team defense, but much of the credit goes to Noah and Gibson, who both protect the paint and can switch out on perimeter players better than most big men in the league. Just ask Ray Allen and Shane Battier, who combined to go 4-for-14 from the field and only 3-for-11 from downtown.
Maybe the Heat players were simply rusty after a long layoff. They did miss several open shots in the early going. But the Bulls also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Heat 46-32, with a 26.5% to 15.9% advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (per Basketball-Reference). In fact, Butler (14 boards) and Noah (11 rebounds) both outrebounded Chris Bosh (6 rebounds), Udonis Haslem (3 rebounds) and Chris Anderson (1 rebound) by themselves. Rebounding is about effort. And Chicago simply fought harder than Miami in this game.
Said Robinson: “I’ve played on some tough teams, but this one is a little different. There’s something special about this group. For me, it feels like we’ve been playing together 10 years. We love to play for each other, regardless. A couple of times in the game me and Jimmy had miscommunications and he told me on a switch to make sure to go under, little things like that. You make adjustments and you don’t need the coach to tell you. He’s younger than me and is telling me that. He’s helping me out. That’s how it is with each guy on the team. It makes it easier to go out and play, and it’s fun. I love the energy and passion. Teammates joke with me and it gives me confidence to go out and play with energy. I love the energy and passion. This is probably the best season I’ve had with this group of guys. God is good. I’m blessed and thankful to be on this team.”
And Chicago fans are blessed and thankful to be rooting for this team.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): What Nate Robinson is pulling off for the Bulls is pretty amazing: a minimum contract guy taking almost every big shot for them in the playoffs. Tonight he had 27 points, nine assists, one steal and ten stitches in his lip. Nate is by no means perfect, but his scoring has been exactly what the Bulls have needed this postseason.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Chris Bosh was out-rebounded by Marco Belinelli (7 to 6). Bosh isn’t known as a rebounder, but then again, neither is Marco. Bosh also went 3-10 from the field and since he wasn’t hitting midrange jumpers (1-6), Joakim Noah could stay closer to the paint and defend the rim.
Carlos Boozer (6 points, 3-11) gets the benefit of the doubt because the Bulls pulled out a win.
Defining Moment: Once again it’s an effort from Joakim Noah. With two minutes left, Marco Belinelli missed a 20-foot jumper, but Noah grabbed the offensive board and kicked it out to Nate Robinson. Nate got it back to Belinelli who nailed a trey and pulled the Bulls even at 86 apiece. The Heat didn’t score the rest of the way.
X factor: Miami made one field goal in the final four minutes of the game. A Chris Bosh dunk with 2:46 remaining was the only bucket during that stretch that wasn’t a free throw (they were 4-5 from the line over that time). The Heat were 1-6 from the field and 0-3 from deep over the final four minutes, while the Bulls went 4-7 from the field, 2-2 from three, and 5-6 from the charity stripe.
Also, the Bulls had more free throw attempts (29) than Miami (25) and Dwyane Wade didn’t get to the line once.
That was … unexpected: We heard that the “Heat would be rusty,” but it seemed like they would figure it out in time and pull away. But every time they made a run, the Bulls fought right back. It’s the same story as usual; this team just never gives up and never seems to be out of a game. Who knows what it means for the series, but this win proves Tom Thibodeau’s system and the Bulls’ effort…if it wasn’t already proven in the previous series.
And from the “This Is Becoming Normal” Department, Jimmy Butler played 48 minutes for the third straight game. His next expected break is the off-season.
The Bulls just won a Game 7 on the road for the first time in franchise history, while many of their best players were either out or playing with injuries. And that, as it turns out, was the easy part, because now Chicago has to face heavy championship-favorite Miami.
The Bulls get a full day of rest before taking on Miami Monday night in AmericaAirlines Arena, where the Heat have lost just four games all season. One of those defeats came at the hands of the Bulls, in early January. You may have also heard about the other Bulls’ victory in the series this season, one that put an end to Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
Lots was made of the Bulls “hard fouls” and “tackling” in that streak busting victory, which will surely be a talking point and something to watch throughout the series. But let’s not forget the most flagrant foul of the entire series was when LeBron James lost his cool and elbowed Carlos Boozer. It’s no secret these teams don’t like each other, but to call anything the Bulls have done “cheap” is disingenuous. The Bulls aren’t going to give any easy baskets to their opponent. That goes for the Bobcats or the Heat.
But there’s no question there will be some flagrants in this series. Chicago won’t back down and neither will Miami, but there is a difference between hard fouls and cheap fouls.
If you thought the Bulls faced an uphill battle in Round 1, just wait for this series. You probably won’t be able to find an “expert” picking against the Heat—only Henry Abbot, Bradford Doolittle and Chris Palmer have the series going longer than five games on ESPN.com out of the 17 experts—and rightfully so. Miami cruised through the regular season, piling up a league-best 66 wins, while LeBron nearly unanimously won his fourth MVP award.
The Bulls split the season series with the Heat, with Miami’s victories both coming by double digits, including one game that the Bulls managed just 67 points. Both of Chicago’s victories were by single digits.
There is good news for the Bulls. First, it’s unlikely they can be any more injured than they were in Game 6 and 7 against the Nets. In all seriousness, Joakim Noah has looked better than he has in some time now the last two games out, making it appear like his plantar fasciitis has subsided somewhat. Jo had a huge Game 7, tallying 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, leading the Bulls to victory.
He was healthy for only two of the four games against Miami, and the Bulls went 1-1 with their starting center. Jo averaged 12.0 points on 45.5 percent from the field, 10.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
Miami will have seven days of rest since sweeping the Bucks in the first round. That gives Dwyane Wade some time to heal from a bruised right knee, but it also opens the possibility of the Heat being a little rusty in Game 1. Wade is expected to play Monday, but with the Bulls still in a rhythm after Game 7 Saturday night, a quick Chicago start could help them steal Game 1.
Luol Deng is officially out for tonight’s game and hasn’t yet joined the team in Miami. Deng received a blood patch to stop spinal fluid leakage after getting a spinal tap to test for meningitis. Deng does just about as good a job as anyone can in trying to slow down LeBron James, and without Lu, it shifts the Bulls defense a little out of whack. With Deng unable to go, Jimmy Butler will probably have to switch from Wade to LeBron. And then Marco Belinelli or Kirk Hinrich (if he is healthy), would have go up against Wade.
The Bulls are 8-8 against the Heat in the Big Three era, but just 1-4 in the playoffs.
I freely admit it. I didn’t think the Bulls would win their Game 7 showdown against the Nets in Brooklyn.
I was wrong. Obviously.
The Bulls continue to defy the odds. They’ve been doing it for well over a year now. I should know better than to doubt them at this point, but in some ways it’s like watching a horror movie monster come back to life over and over. We hit it with an ax…it’s still coming! We set it on fire…it’s still coming! We blew it up with dynamite…IT’S STILL COMING!
Frankly, there were so many reasons – don’t let coach Tom Thibodeau hear you call them excuses — for the Bulls to fall this season. To fail.
Let’s start with the continuing absence of the team’s superstar. Derrick Rose, whose ongoing recovery from knee surgery has been making both fans and sports writers twitchy, hasn’t played a game this season and probably won’t. For his part, Rose isn’t paying attention to the criticism and seems content to wait it out until next season.
You know who else hasn’t played a single game for the Bulls this season? Omer Asik. Kyle Korver. C.J. Watson. Ronnie Brewer. John Lucas III. Management disbanded the vaunted Bench Mob last summer.
Then there have been injuries upon injuries. To Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson.
All the turnover and missed games led to a wildly uneven season. The Bulls scored several big wins against some of the league’s elite teams, but they also lost quite a few games to lottery teams.
But they never quit. Never gave up. To a man, the Bulls embraced Thibodeau’s “more than enough to win” mantra. While the Atlanta Hawks were tanking the final two games of the regular season in hopes of avoiding Miami in the second round, the Bulls were clawing and scraping their way up to the East’s fifth seed.
They knew that to be the best, you have to beat the best. So while the Hawks were getting bounced by the Pacers in the first round, the Bulls once again beat the odds and advanced to round two.
And the player who best personifies the team’s ravenous desire to win every game is Joakim Noah.
It’s stunning to think that Noah is the same guy who as a rookie got suspended for a game by his own teammates. Those days are long past. For the past few seasons, Noah has clearly been the team’s spiritual leader. With Rose still out and apparently reluctant to play, Noah has simply became the leader. After the Bulls lost Game 6 in Chicago, Noah vowed they would come back and win Game 7 on the road.
Then he went out and made it happen.
Noah — whose plantar faciitis was so bad a couple weeks ago there was speculation he might miss the playoffs — had a monster game: 40 minutes, 24 points, 12-for-17, 14 rebounds, 6 blocked shots, 2 assists, 1 steal.
It was an historic accomplishment.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Noah joined Elvin Hayes as the only two players in NBA history to have at least 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocked shots in a Game 7. And Noah is one of only five players in league history to have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in a game, joining Hayes, Kevin Garnett, Dikembe Mutumbo and Patrick Ewing.
Not bad company.
Noah did it all. With Deng (debilitating illness) and Hinrich (bruised left calf) sitting out, Noah carried the Bulls on offense and defense. He knocked down jumpers. He hit left-handed layups and running one-handed floaters. He repeatedly stuffed Brook Lopez.
What’s more, Noah’s offensive rebounding gave the Bulls second chance after second chance. In fact, the game’s most symbolic play may have happened with just under five minutes to go in the game. With the Bulls trying to stave off a Brooklyn rally and the shot clock winding down, Nate Robinson drove and threw up a desperate layup attempt that was way off the mark. But Noah tore down the offensive board and shoveled the ball back to Robinson, who found Belinelli for a wide open three-pointer. BOOM.
Those were the kinds of plays that Noah and the Bulls made all night. Except for one stretch of the third quarter, the Bulls were the aggressors. They were physical and relentless. And the Nets could not match them.
It helped that Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson (2-for-14 from the field and 1-for-9 on threes) couldn’t have located the basket with a GPS. But more importantly, everybody in red and black was stepping up. Belinelli match Noah with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting iced the game by hitting four straight free throws in the final half minute. Carlos Boozer played strong (17 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) despite foul trouble.
Jimmy Butler didn’t shoot well (3-for-10), but he played all 48 minutes for the second straight game and did a little of everything (9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists). He was also a defensive demon. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Deron Williams went 4-for-11 and Johnson went 0-for-5 when matched up against Butler.
Even Daequan Cook (8 minutes, 3 points, 3 assists, 1 rebounds, +10) and Marquis Teague (14 minutes, 4 points, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot, +4) got into the act.
The Bulls used a second quarter bliztkrieg — 32 points on 13-for-21 shooting — to build a 17-point halftime lead. And as usual, the defense closed things out, limiting the Nets to 18 points on 7-for-23 shooting during the fourth quarter.
It all added up to the first Game 7 win in franchise history.
Said Noah: “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”
As well he should. The Bulls could have been proud had they lost. They should be ridiculously proud that they won.
Said Boozer: “We’ve had that ["more than enough to win" mantra] since I got here in Chicago, man. You go in the locker room you see a big sign above our locker room that says ‘No excuses.’ We take that wholeheartedly since I’ve been here. Didn’t matter who was out — we’ve had guys that stepped up. Take your hat off to guys like Marquis Teague and Daequan Cook and Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson because they gave us a huge lift coming off that bench.”
Added Thibodeau: “I thought our guys, we took a big punch in Game 1 and we kept fighting back and that’s been the story of the season.”
Now here they are. Against all reason. In the Eastern Conference Semi-finals against the defending NBA champions.
Said Noah: ”We were in the locker room, everybody’s got ice, everybody is tired, it is unbelievable to share these moments. I’m very excited to face the Heat; you want to play against the best. This is what it is all about, playing against the defending champs. It’s going to be a war.”
MVP: Nobody new takes this spot—it’s Joakim Noah. His energy doesn’t show up on the box score, but his 24 points, 14 rebounds (seven offensive) and six blocks do. Noah became the second player, joining Elvin Hayes, to rack up that stat line. He looks healthier than he has looked in months, and he was all over the court as usual. As a Bulls fan you have to love this guy.
LVP: Joe Johnson is making $19.7 million this season. In a Game 7, he went 2-14 from the field, including 1-9 from three and tallied six points. Marquis Teague nearly matched his output.
X-factor: The Nets grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which is not good at all for the Bulls. But Brooklyn converted those boards into just 16 second chance points. The Bulls scored 20 second chance points on 13 offensive rebounds. When Chicago got the opportunity they took it, while the Nets failed to take advantage. That could be said for much of this series.
Defining moment: Withfive minutes left in the game,Joakim Noah grabbed an offensive rebound off of a miss from Nate Robinson. Noah then dished it to Robinson who found Marco Belinelli for a triple to put the Bulls up ten. Belinelli did a little dance and the Nets would never get closer than six the rest of the way.
That was… “Bulls-like”: The Bulls had no right to be in this series. They had injuries piling up and there was more talk about one guy not playing than the 12 guys that were. They could have quit. But Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t allow that. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson and the others wouldn’t allow that. This team isn’t the best offense, or the most exciting, but they couldn’t care about that. They go out and fight every night and that’s something that should be respected. Noah said it best after the game:“I’m just so proud of this team.”
The Bulls play Miami in the second round starting Monday night.
Luol Deng was in the hospital Friday, possibly for meningitis, after getting a spinal tap prior to Thursday’s game. Nate Robinson was throwing up on the bench during Game 6 because of an illness—a game in which he played 42 minutes. Taj Gibson, suffering from the same illness, struggled through 18 minutes. Joakim Noah is still fighting through plantar fasciitis and his minutes limit is long gone. Kirk Hinrich missed Game 6, but will travel with the team and will be a game-time decision with a calf injury. Derrick Rose hasn’t played all season.
I think that about sums up the Bulls luck heading into a win-or-go-home Game 7 in Brooklyn. It all comes down to Saturday night, and the Bulls roster continues to shrink.
(Quick tangent: Luol Deng defended himself on Twitter Friday, saying it was more than a flu that kept him out. Deng should never have to explain himself for missing a contest. Actually, no professional athlete should ever have to explain why they missed a game, but someone with Deng’s track record should never be questioned. And if you saw the Vine of him leaving the arena, you could tell something was very wrong with him. He has played through countless injuries these past few seasons, while averaging the most minutes per game in the league. Perhaps this is misguided anger at another Chicago Bull, but that’s another story for another time. If Luol Deng thinks he cannot go, and had a spinal tap earlier that day, Luol Deng cannot go and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s that simple. Now back to Game 7.)
Chicago was in a similar place in Game 6 and grinded all the way to the end with a shortened, injury-plagued rotation (with three players coming down with an illness, maybe “plagued” is too accurate). It was a game they had no chance of winning, but yet were still right there at the end with a chance to tie. They should have been in a better spot down the stretch honestly, but Marco Belinelli went 1-5 from three in the fourth quarter (with many of those very makeable, open attempts) and Chicago shot 32.1 percent as a team. Who knows if it would have been different had the Bulls had more rested bodies at the end.
The Bulls dug themselves an early hole, allowing Brooklyn to shoot 65.0 percent in the opening frame, and although Chicago shot 59.1 percent, that’s not how they win games. The Bulls are never going to win a shootout, and giving Brooklyn early confidence is the last thing Joakim Noah and company can afford.
The defense tightened up the rest of the way, holding Brooklyn to 27.8 percent from the field in the second half, but even with that great defensive effort Chicago couldn’t close the gap. The Bulls did hold the Nets to 48.3 percent shooting at the rim (14-29), something that would go a long way in Game 7 if it could be duplicated.
The Bulls have their work cut out for them going on the road for a Game 7. Chicago is 0-6 all-time on the road in Game 7s. Add in their injuries and it’s going to be a huge hill to climb, but if there is any team in the NBA that can do it, it’s the Bulls.
Chicago has shown this year—heck the entire Tom Thibodeau era—that they have a shot in any game they take the court—no matter how few of their players actually take the court. But sometimes those injuries just become too much to overcome, just as they were last season against the Sixers. The Bulls don’t want to be the team that followed up a first round loss as the top seed with the squad that blows a 3-1 lead…even if they have an excuse for both occurrences.
“I’m just very confident our guys are going to take advantage of the (home court) opportunity and continue to do what they’ve done all year,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said Friday.
The Bulls will also do what they have done all year: fight until the last whistle no matter who is out there.
Stopping Deron: Deron Williams is 13-39 from the field with nine turnovers when guarded by Kirk Hinrich; unfortunately Hinrich probably won’t be able to play. That leaves Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler. Williams is 12-24 with four turnovers when guarded by Nate Robinson and 5-14 from the field with six turnovers when Jimmy Butler is on him. So in short, keep Nate away from Deron at all costs.
Stats that may not matter but are somewhat relevant: Home teams have won 80.2 percent of Game 7s (89-22). The Bulls are 3-6 in Game 7s, but 0-6 in Game 7s on the road. The Bulls have not won a winner-take-all game on the road since 1989’s first round against the Cavaliers (this was a Game 5). The Nets are 0-1 all-time in Game 7s.