In Game 1, the Bulls won with defense and rebounding.
In Game 2, the Heat won with defense and rebounding.
Don’t get me wrong. There were other factors. Plenty of them.
The Bulls missed on a lot of open looks. Shots they hit in Game 1 became shots they bricked in Game 2. I lost count of how many shots rattled around the rim or went halfway down before popping back out…but there were several. If two or three of those wide open looks had snapped through the nylon, maybe things turn out differently.
Or maybe they don’t. We’ll never know.
The Bulls also shanked 10 free throws. The most painful of those misses came when Derrick Rose short-armed two in a row with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter and the Heat leading only 73-69. It also hurt when Taj Gibson failed to convert the free throw on an “And 1” opportunity with 2:29 left and the Heat up 78-75.
On the other side of the basketball, Miami got a huge lift from Udonis Haslem, who returned from the dead with an inspiring all-around performance: 13 points, 5-for-10, 3-for-3 on the line, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. His plus-minus score (-11) is deceiving, because Haslem made several big-time plays.
He was to the Heat what Gibson was to the Bulls in Game 1.
In particular, Haslem drilled two 20-footers in the final minute and a half of the third quarter to stymie a rally attempt by the Bulls. Time and again, Haslem made positive basketball plays. He blocked a shot by Rose. He threw down a couple dunks. He grabbed three big offensive rebounds.
Before Game 1, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau instructed his players: “Inspire your teammates. Do it with your effort.” Haslem did that last night for the Heat.
Miami also owned the paint, outscoring the Bulls 50-34 in the colored rectangle, and going an amazing 16-for-20 at the rim (80 percent). According to ESPN Stats and Information: “The Bulls have not been able to keep the Heat from scoring down low, allowing Miami to shoot 64.6 percent from inside 10 feet in this series. In Game 2, the Heat entered the fourth quarter shooting 20-for-27 (74.1 pct) from inside 10 feet before cooling down.”
And, of course, there was LeBron James hitting clutch jumpers down the stretch. His biggest shot was the three-pointer he nailed with 4:28 left to put the Heat up 76-73. Before that bucket, the game had been tied at 73-73 for almost three full minutes, and anybody could have taken control at that point.
LeBron did just that.
So, yeah, there were other factors involved, but it still came down to defense and rebounding.
The basic building blocks of basketball.
The Bulls missed a fair share of open looks. However, the Heat pursued, pressured and contested with much greater intensity than they had in Game 1. For the most part, they kept Rose away from the basket, limiting to four shot attempts at the rim. When Rose did drive, the Heat made him to stop sooner than he wanted and forced him into 0-for-7 shooting from 3-9 feet.
Miami also cut off Deng’s path to the basket. Several times he drove baseline and lost the ball or got stripped. He ended up taking seven three-pointers and converting only one of them.
Carlos Boozer was 3-for-10. Kyle Korver was 1-for-7. Hands were in faces all over the place. In the final tally, the Bulls shot 34.1 percent as a team and went 3-for-20 from beyond the arc.
The Bulls still managed to haul down 17 offensive rebounds, but they resulted in only 18 second-chance points, compared to the 31 they had in Game 1.
According to ESPN Stats and Information: “Through three quarters, the Bulls dominated the offensive glass but struggled to capitalize, scoring just 16 points as they went 4-for-13 on second-chance opportunities. That came back to haunt them in the fourth, as the Heat kept Chicago off the glass, holding the Bulls to just two second-chance points on a single offensive rebound.”
In the bigger scheme of things, the Heat rebounded the Bulls 45-41 for the game. It was the first time this year — including both regular season and playoffs — that Miami outrebounded Chicago.
This is another one of those games that, if you look deep down, remind you that for all the drama and heroics we see in players like D-Rose and LeBron, winning and losing really comes down to the fundamentals of the game.
Defense and rebounding.
Those are supposed to be the Bulls’ specialties.
Last night, they were the team’s Achilles’ heel. Now the homecourt advantage is lost.
More on this disappointing loss later.