Only the sports media could possibly have categorized Miami’s win over the Bulls yesterday as a “revenge” game.
On the one hand, there was the mighty Heat, a reasonably healthy 60-win team with the league’s MVP and two other top 10 players seemingly cruising toward their second straight NBA title.
On the other hand, there was a weary, injury-riddled Bulls team missing its superstar, All-Star center, starting shooting guard and top reserve while fighting what appears to be a losing battle for the fifth seed in their conference.
So you’re telling me the presumed champions needed revenge? Revenge on what, exactly?
Yes, Chicago ended the Miami’s 27-game winning streak a couple weeks back, relegating the Heat to second place in the list of longest win streaks in NBA history. Remind me to shed a slow crocodile tear for them.
(Of course, some people insist on referring to Miami’s streak as “the modern record-breaking streak,” which is somewhat disingenuous, considering I don’t remember any of these people talking that way about Houston’s 22-game streak from a few years back. But whatever.)
Meanwhile, the Bulls fought on, even though the battle seemed largely hopeless. With Derrick Rose still recovering from knee surgery, Chicago’s only real advantage over Miami is size. Only Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson — which made up the largest part of the size advantage — missed the game due to their respective injuries (plantar faciitis for Noah and a sprained knee for Gibson).
Not surprisingly, the Bulls were noxious on offense.
Nobody other than Daequan Cook (4-for-6) managed to hit at last half of their shots. The starting frontcourt of Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng combined to go 15-for-39. The starting backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli went 5-for-20. Nate Robinson shot 5-for-16 off the bench, Nazr Mohammed was 0-for-1 and Malcolm Thomas didn’t attempt a shot in his three minutes of playing time.
The Bulls shot 35.4 percent from the field — including a miserable 32.1 percent on two-pointers — and managed only 24 points in the paint while missing 10 of their 21 shot attempts at the rim (per Hoopdata).
The most damning stat of all was mentioned in the AP recap: the Bulls finished the game with more personal fouls (30) than field goals (29).
The defense didn’t show up, either. The Bulls once again gave up 30 first quarter points — the third time that has happened in the past four games — and ultimately allowed the Heat to score at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). They did manage to limit Miami to 6-for-17 shooting from three-point range, which is meaningful given that the Heat rank second in the league in three-point percentage at near 40 percent.
Unfortunately, the Heat still managed to shoot 51 percent overall…and they might have won by a much wider margin had they not missed 14 of their season-best 41 free throw attempts.
All those fouls might give you the notion that the Bulls were mounting stiff resistance to Miami’s scoring attempts. This was not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the Heat were 21-for-28 (75 percent) at the rim, including 5-for-5 by LeBron James, 4-for-6 by Dwyane Wade, and 2-for-2 by Chris Bosh. Even Rashard Lewis was 1-for-1 from the rim in what may have been Lewis’ first layup attempt in three seasons.
Far too many of Chicago’s defense possessions went down like this: a Bulls perimeter defender easily beaten off the dribble, a flat-footed Boozer standing stock still but making a half-hearted and fruitless reach in toward the ball, and a layup for the Heat. It was like a recurring nightmare.
It underscores Boozer’s main weakness. He does a great job on the boards, and actually grabbed 20 rebounds in this game, but he has no lateral movement and couldn’t protect the paint if the life of everyone on earth depended on it. Of course, Carlos wasn’t signed for his interior defense, because the Bulls already had Noah for that. Only Noah wasn’t around, nor was Gibson, who is the team’s next best interior defender.
Thus the layup drill for Miami…and all the long-distance chuck ups by the Bulls.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We’re small. When you take 26 3s it means (in this case) those were probably the right shots. We’re playing small, we’ve got four perimeter players out there with Carlos (Boozer). Those are the shots that present themselves. I think what happens when you do that is your offense picks up but your defense suffers. The value of both Taj and Joakim are the fact that you can stay big when teams go small, because of their feet. But that being said we’ve got other guys that can get it done. We just didn’t get it done.”
And how can they get it done?
Said Thibs: “We just have to keep moving forward and concentrate on improving. Hopefully we will get a couple of guys back soon. I don’t want us thinking about the playoffs. I want us thinking about the game (Monday) against the Orlando Magic.”
It was standard Thibs-speak.
Chicago (43-37) is now a full game behind the Hawks (44-36), and although some believe the Bulls prefer the sixth seed to the fifth, I personally feel a first round date with the Pacers would be significantly more difficult than facing the Nets. Of course, some of the argument then shifts to the potential second round opponent…but maybe all this is thinking too far down the line. And possibly meaningless.
Said Hinrich: ”No preference [on who we play]. We need to play these last two games and get a healthy as we can be.”
Health would be nice.