MVP (Most Valuable Player): LeBron James did what an MVP does. He recorded 27 points (9-20), seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals. The Bulls as a team recorded just 12 assists, although Chicago only had 19 baskets—so not many chances to get an assist.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): No one player earned this. It should go to the entire Bulls team. They started 1-12 from the field, were even worse in the third quarter (more on this in the next section) and put up some historically bad numbers. Nobody shot well for the Bulls, who went 25.7 percent from the floor. Nate Robinson did go 0-12 from the field, so only a handful of people in history shot worse than him. We really shouldn’t be surprised that Nate came crashing back down to earth.
Defining Moment: The nine points in the entire third quarter are probably a pretty good summary for this game. The Bulls went 2-13 from the field in the third frame, or 15.4 percent. They also turned it over seven times for good measure.
X factor: The Bulls point guards score scored more points for Miami (two), than for Chicago (zero). Shout out to Adam Reisinger for pointing this out. Marquis Teague tipped in a pass on defense to score two points for the Heat, but went 0-2 at the end he was actually supposed to score. That was nothing compared to Nate Robinson’s 0-12, though.
That Was … history: The Bulls set franchise records for fewest points and lowest field goal percentage in a playoff game. Their nine third quarter points were also a franchise low for the postseason. It was the worst shooting percentage for a playoff team since 2004 (Hornets, 24.4 percent). The Bulls worst playoff field goal percentage coming into tonight was 31.1 percent against Detroit in 1990.
In short, that was one of the worst playoff performances ever. At least he Bulls have an excuse of being injured. This very long, frustrating season could have just one game remaining, as the series heads back to Miami.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago forced the Heat into exactly what they wanted: midrange jumpers in Game 3. The only problem is, Miami didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to miss those shots—or at least not all of Miami did.
Tom Thibodeau’s game plan worked against LeBron James, who went just 1-7 from midrange. That’s 14.3 percent. James didn’t have a great shooting night from the field, going 6-17, but hit all 11 of his foul shots and added eight boards and seven assists because he’s LeBron James. Stopping the MVP is where it starts, but that’s just part of the battle.
Miami’s third banana, Chris Bosh, hit 5-9 from midrange, and went 8-16 overall. As a team, the Heat hit 50.0 percent of their midrange jumpers (13-26), nearly 10 percent better than the league average from the area.
The unfortunate part of all this is that Chicago did a very good job of defending the rim. The Heat went just 11-21 (52.4 percent) at the basket, almost 20 percent lower than their season average. Miami led the league in field goal percentage at the rim, hitting 71.5 percent of their shots from in close, according to Hoopdata. LeBron shot a staggering 77.7 at the rim on the year, but the Bulls held him to 50 percent (3-6) last time out.
Unfortunately the Bulls couldn’t capitalize because of the midrange jumpers mentioned above and the fact that Stephen Curry is wearing a Norris Cole skin-suit for this series. Cole is a perfect 8-8 from three in the three games, and was 6-7 overall in Game 3, contributing 18 off the bench.
So what can the Bulls do next game? Well, maybe closing out on Cole at the three point line a little quicker would be a start. But other than that, they probably won’t change much. Chicago will always give their opponent the midrange jumper, because it is the least efficient shot in the game. They showed this in the Nets series, when Brook Lopez hit three consecutive 20-footers but there was absolutely no change in the way they defended it.
They don’t want to give up easy shots, which they didn’t in Game 3, although the Heat did get to the line 30 times. The Bulls also want to run you off the three-point line, which they didn’t do great, but when the defense is over-compensating for LeBron James some open threes will happen. Also when Nate Robinson is on the court or when Carlos Boozer has to guard a small forward.
The Bulls were right there, they just faded down the stretch, which isn’t surprising considering their short bench. Don’t expect them to have any more healthy bodies for Game 4.
According to K.C. Johnson, Luol Deng couldn’t practice on Saturday without throwing up, and on Sunday stopped after just warming up.
“I did some individual work (Saturday) and I started throwing up a little bit. I couldn’t finish the workout,” Deng said, probably with a trash can within reach. “I tried to practice with the team (Sunday) and the same thing. My body, my system is not reacting well to anything I’m doing right now.”
Of course to Thibs, this mean Deng is “day-to-day.” I can’t believe they haven’t shut down Deng when he is having trouble eating solid foods.
Kirk Hinrich didn’t do much either, riding a stationary bike and getting a few shots up and is officially the same status as Deng.
With that news, Chicago will have the same guys healthy to play as they look to even the series at two games apiece (presumably with more than just two and a half minutes of Nazr Mohammed).
Among the “things that went right” for the Bulls was Carlos Boozer finally getting word that the second round started. Boozington scored 21 points on 10-16 from the field after scoring just 14 points in the first two games combined. He was finally being somewhat aggressive, and it paid off when he did. Boozer went 4-4 at the rim and 7-8 overall in the paint. If that right there doesn’t jump out to Boozer to start getting to the hole, then I don’t know what will. And while he was 7-8 in the paint, he was just 3-7 from midrange. That’s not a terrible midrange percentage, but he often has a size advantage in this series and he needs to take advantage of that (without throwing elbows and getting called for charges).
Don’t wake the beast: The Miami Heat are 10-0 following losses in Game 1 of playoff series during the Big Three era. After dropping Game 1, they won four straight against Chicago in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, four straight against the Thunder in the 2012 Finals and have now won two straight against the Bulls in this series.
The Bulls haven’t been thrilled by the officiating so far in their second-round playoff match-up with the Miami Heat. After losing the fiercely contested Game 3, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau spoke out about it.
Said Thibs: “When you play this team you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness. Things aren’t going to go your way. That’s the way it is. You’re not going to get calls. That’s reality. We still have to find a way to get it done and we can.”
Thibodeau was particularly irked about the Three Stooges-style dive LeBron James took after a reactionary shove from Nazr Mohammed in the first half. Probably because it resulted in Mohammed’s ejection.
Said Thibs: “From my angle, I saw a guy basically flop. I don’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul, I understand that, but ejection, no, nope.”
Added Nate Robinson: “You see LeBron in a lot of commercials, a lot of good acting.”
Of course LeBron flopped. He’s the most imposing physical specimen in the NBA…you’re telling me Nazr shoved him hard enough to send him sprawling at least 10 feet? If you believe that, I know a Nigerian prince who would like to give you bags and bags of free money.
Said Mohammed: “It was a soft foul; it’s not like a fouled him hard. It was a stop-the-break foul. I thought it was a cheap shot throwing me down when all I was doing was trying to stop the break. … I’m disappointed in myself because I let my teammates down. And I’m also disappointed because my son probably was watching the game and I don’t want him to see that type of behavior on the court. I’m also disappointed that it warranted an ejection for a push — when I got pushed down first.”
Added Taj Gibson: “[Michael Jordan] would get fouled and he would just keep playing. That’s old-school basketball.”
Yes, but LeBron is not MJ, and today’s league is not the NBA of the 1990s. That’s just the way it is. The Bulls have to realize that and play on.
Said Joakim Noah: ”I expect the physical nature to continue [in Game 4]. It’s our only chance. … I think it’s very normal. You look at playoff basketball, it’s always physical. You look at every series, it’s physical. It’s just when you have somebody like LeBron James coming at you full speed, yeah, there’s a lot of contact. It’s just part of the game.”
Added Jimmy Butler: “We’re a hard-nosed, tough guy team. That’s what we label ourselves as. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re going to come out swinging. We’ll come out fighting. … Don’t give up any layups. I feel like when they get into the paint, we’ve got to make them earn it from the free throw line. If we do foul, we’ve got to make sure it’s not an ‘and one.’ I feel like they’ve been getting into the paint entirely too easy.”
Maybe. Although, according to Hoopdata, the Heat only 13-for-21 at the rim in Game 3. That 62 percent conversion rate is nearly 10 percentage points below Miami’s regular season average of 71.5. But limiting the Heat even further would obviously help.
Said Deng: ”I did some individual work (Saturday) and I started throwing up a little bit. I couldn’t finish the workout.I tried to practice (Sunday) and the same thing. I just warmed up and couldn’t get through practice. My body, my system is not reacting well to anything I’m doing right now. It’s not as bad as it was before,” Deng said. “But I can’t even get through a regular warm-up.
“Just because you get a spinal tap doesn’t mean (the flu) goes away.I had that and then the reaction to (the spinal tap). It just sucks, man. It’s not like an injury where you can just play through it and it slows you down a little bit. It’s just one of those things where, not even basketball-wise, just doing regular stuff is hard.”
As for Hinrich, ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell reports that Captain Kirk has been limited to shooting and exercise bike work in practice. Which doesn’t make it seem as though his injured calf is ready for game action.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): In a game where LeBron James (6-17 field goals) didn’t shoot great and Dwyane Wade (ten points) disappeared for stretches, Chris Bosh picked up the slack. He had an enormous double-double with 20 points, 19 rebounds and added two blocks and four assists for good measure.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Carlos Boozer finally showed up and got himself out of the LVP spot. But it was quickly overtaken by Nazr Mohammed. And I mean quickly. Nazr got himself tossed after playing just 2:31 in Game 3. He committed an odd foul on LeBron at mid-court, and then when LeBron was about to get a technical, Nazr decided it would be best to push James down. Nazr got tossed and it did the Bulls no good.
X factor: Going into the series, the Bulls’ biggest worries were Bosh, James and Wade. Well, add Norris Cole to that list because he hasn’t missed from three yet. Cole is averaging 14.3 points per game and is shooting 80 percent from the field. When you’re over-compensating for LeBron James, someone is going to be open and it shouldn’t be Ray Allen. But if Cole keeps knocking down shots, the Bulls’ will have to make an adjustment.
X factor 2: The Bulls held Miami to 52.4 percent at the rim, which is 7.5 percent worse than the league average (and the Heat have a guy named LeBron James). That is a huge win for the Bulls and the focus of their defense. However, Miami hit 50 percent (13-26) from midrange, nearly 10 percent better than the league average. The Bulls executed their defensive scheme, but Miami, led by Bosh, was hitting the shots they were given. If a team is connecting at that rate from midrange, it’s going to be tough to beat them. When that team is the Miami Heat, it’s even tougher.
That was … better: Heading into the fourth quarter, the game was tied. But Chicago got outscored by ten in the final frame, which has to do, at least partly, with rest. Following Game 2’s blowout loss, the Bulls responded well and even though they didn’t get it done, they stuck right with the defending champs. If Miami hadn’t been hitting so well from midrange, the Bulls could be the ones with a 2-1 series lead.
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.