“We gotta make hustle plays.”
“First to the floor.”
“Inspire your teammates. Do it with your effort.”
“And remember: heart. But the important thing is Chicago heart.”
That’s what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told his players before Game 1 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. And if you were wondering whether this team buys into everything their coach has to say, this game provided complete and utter confirmation.
This Bulls didn’t simply carry out Thibodeau’s orders. They lived them.
Like midway through the third quarter when Joakim Noah wound up defending Dwyane Wade in isolation. D-Wade couldn’t get around Noah, and Jo swatted his shot.
A few minutes later, LeBron James went right at Taj Gibson one-on-one. Gibson not only stayed right with James, he got a piece of LeBron’s shot.
Later, Kyle Korver knocked the basketball away from Wade and was the first one on the floor trying to recover it. Korver ended up deflecting the ball out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Heat, but that play epitomized the kind of effort the Bulls were putting forth.
That effort resulted in some numbers that ranged from “impressive” to “absurd.”
For instance, Chicago scored 22 points off 16 forced turnovers, went 10-for-21 from downtown, and outrebounded Miami 45-33. Furthermore, the Bench Mob outscored their Heat counterparts 28-15.
Those are impressive stats.
Even more impressive was the fact that the Bulls held James and Wade to a combined 11 points in the second half. In fact, both James (15 points, 5-for-15, -14) and Wade (18 points, 7-for-17, -22) looked very mortal. They each finished with only four free throw attempts and a co-game-high 4 turnovers.
The Heat advanced past the Celtics by repeatedly isolating their two superstars. None of the Boston players — individually or as a collective — could stay between those men and the basket. That didn’t work against the Chicago D. Not in Game 1 anyway. With the Bulls keeping James and Wade out of the paint, and shutting down Miami’s fast break, the Heat mustered only 34 points in the second half.
Now for the absurd numbers. Chicago had a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds that led to an unbelievable 31-8 advantage in second chance points. The Heat could not protect their defensive glass. Noah had 8 offensive rebounds. Carlos Boozer had 4. Gibson had 3. Heck, even C.J. Watson had 2.
The Bulls didn’t shoot all that well — 43.7 percent as a team — but they had an offensive rebounding percentage of 41.3. When a team rebounds four out of every 10 missed shots, that gives them a pretty distince advantage.
You want to see energy and intensity? Check this out:
Regarding Gibson’s dunks, Noah said: “It was unbelievable. The one on Wade was crazy and the one at the end of the game was crazy, too. I’ve been calling him ‘Light Feet’ for a long time. That’s his nickname around here… he’s got a few nicknames, but ‘Light Feet’ is one of them.”
Countered Wade: “That’s the first time I’ve been dunked on all year. I’ll take my 90-1 dunks [ratio] this year. It was a very athletic play. I knew I didn’t have a chance when I was backpedaling. He’s very athletic. This won’t be the last time I get dunked on.”
According to ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell, Gibson preferred the putback dunk to his poster-maker on Wade: “That just shows that no matter what the score is, no matter how much time is left in the game, you never stop playing. You want to keep playing til the clock runs out and that’s Thibs’ motto: Play 48 minutes. And tonight we wanted to go out there and show that we can play 48 minutes of tough basketball.”
Did they ever. In the second round of these playoffs, versus Miami’s 2.5 superstar system, the Celtics looked like a civilization in decay. Last night, the Bulls looked like a hoard of rampaging barbarians storming the castle gates. They outworked and outhustled the Heat.
They also played smart basketball.
Chicago managed to play defense without fouling, limiting the Heat to only 15 free throw attempts as a team. By comparison, James and Wade came into this game averaging 14 combined FTA during the playoffs. The Bulls weren’t giving up easy points.
Speaking of which, they also took care of the basketball. After a shaky first quarter in which they committed 3 turnovers and gave up 8 fast break points, the Bulls finished with only 9 turnovers and the Heat ended up with only 10 fast break points.
As Friedell noted, Chicago went 30 straight possessions without a miscue and had only 1 turnover in the second half. By valuing possession of the basketball, Chicago prevented Miami from racking up easy transition baskets and forced them into a halfcourt, iso-heavy offense.
That worked out pretty well.
This was the team’s best game in the playoffs. They were 100 percent focused and committed to carrying out the game plan. Everybody was sharp. Derrick Rose had one of the quietest 28 points you’ll ever see. Luol Deng had a great all-around game (21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists) and played excellent defense on LeBron. Noah dominated the glass (14 rebounds) and intimidated from within the paint. Carlos Boozer was solid (14 points, 9 rebounds) and efficient (5-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line).
And, of course, the bench was a plus all night long. On that subject, check out the Bench Mob’s plus-minus numbers: Gibson (+17), Ronnie Brewer (+13), Korver (+9), Omer Asik (+9), C.J. Watson (+7).
In many ways, this game seemed like a war of attrition, with the Bulls wearing the Heat down with their depth in the second half. And it’s worth reminding everybody that after a regular season in which both James and Wade averaged close to 40 minutes per game, they are averaging 43.4 MPG and 39.6 MPG during the postseason.
With their usuage rates hovering in the 30-ish range, and with almost every single Miami play running through them, maybe the Bulls can keep throwing fresh bodies at them until they tire out.
Or maybe not. It’s worth remembering that, as impressive as the win was, it’s still a one-game sample. Will LeBron go 5-for-15 again? Probably not. Will he and Wade finish with only four FTA each again? Unlikely. What seems more reasonable is that Miami coach Erik Spoelstra will look at the tape, make adjustments, and we’ll see the Heat come out with a new game plan for Game 2.
But this was a pretty nice start.