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.