Drink: Sangre de Toro (I think it is Spanish for “Bulls Beatdown”)
I had a whole bunch of nervous energy going into this one. In my opinion, this series is one that can go in any direction. A sweep by either team would be just as expected as a seven game grinder. So I poured myself a glass of red wine and got to it.
The Heat came out causing turnovers and making the Bulls pay on the other end. It was so very frustrating as this has been the case in every game against the Heat this year. Yet, the Bulls seem to forget that the Heat love transition dunks and allow them to go down in the first each time. The Heat defense had a simple plan to begin the game: play off Rose and pack the lane. And it was effective early on, as the Bulls were sloppy and the crowded lane did not allow them to use their size. And speaking of size, the Bulls were getting beat on the boards early on. It was tres bizarre. As ugly as it was, the Bulls were only down by three after one, behind some solid defense.
Unit: DJ TrainWreck (this edition being: Watson, Brewer, Deng, Gibson, & Asik) came out in the second and played hard. Much has been talked about how the Bulls are deeper than the Heat and it sure showed in tonight’s contest. The reserves were in there for almost five minutes to start the second. It was all highlighted by the break away dunk of one Mr. Taj Gibson. Watson was leading the break, dumping it off to Taj, who went up with two hands and dunked it on Dwayne Wade’s face. I am trying to find a way for my TV to play it on loop until next game. Other than that single play, the second was a dogfight. These teams get out on defense, and if you enjoy/appreciate great defensive play, this series is for you.
Speaking of defense, it was just that factor that turned the tide tonight in the third quarter. The Bulls held the Heat to 14 third-quarter points. They were able to parlay this defense with some timely shooting early in the period to open a lead and gain momentum. Taj Gibson continued being the player I have been preaching all season (yes, my back just thanked my hand for the pat), on his way to a brilliant performance. The only real problem I had with his play was that if he keeps it up we will not be able to afford him in a couple years (when he is a free agent).
UDJTW took the cue from the starters in the third and built upon it. Much like the second quarter, Thibs trusted his reserves (as he has been doing more and more since the playoffs opened) and was rewarded for his loyalty. As the starters filtered back in, they looked a bit shaky. This meant a short leash for Boozer and a return for the poster-machine, Taj Gibson. And what did Gibson give us? Solid defense, and a one-handed rebound-dunk that was almost as glorious as his second quarter effort. At that point, the only question left was whether the fans got their free Big Mac (they did).
A few interesting ideas came from this game. First and foremost – just listen to any Bulls player post-game – was the defense. The most impressive part of the D was the way they rotated (something they struggled with in their previous two series). They rotated crazy match-ups on the Heat’s Big 2. Everyone from Rose to Asik guarded LeBron and Wade during the game. The result was Puss and Bron going 12-32 from the floor tonight.
Another key was the rebounding. After getting worked on the boards when the game started, the Bulls came back strong, out rebounding the Heat 45-33. This is going to be a huge factor for the Bulls if they are to win the series. The Bulls are going to have to use their size and hustle to overcome the Heat’s super star talent.
With the Heat playing off Rose and jamming the lane, it was key that the Bulls take advantage of the room created on the perimeter. The Bulls are an underrated three point shooting team. Sure, only Korver (and possibly Rose) is dangerous in hitting a three with a defender on him. However, they have multiple players (i.e Deng, Bogans) who are solid three point shooters when left open. If the Heat are going to lay off the arc, they are going to have to cope with some quiet long-range assassins (47.6% tonight).
The Heat were almost a 1-2 (-190, if that means anything to you) favorite in Vegas to win this series. That means if you dropped $190 on the Heat, your win would net you $100 (plus your initial investment). Ergo, the Heat were huge favorites leading into the series. Yes, analyst picked both teams rather evenly, but analyst are paid to be entertainers first, with their predictions meaning little. Money talks, and Vegas usually has a decent finger on the pulse on how games play out. It is time for the Bulls to keep their boot to the Heat’s throat.
With that said (or written), the Bulls laid down a smoke show tonight. Does that really mean anything? Hardly. The Heat still have a second chance to grab home-court advantage on Wednesday. TV analyst may disagree and point to the Heat’s inability to rebound or Chicago’s defense as reasons for their damnation, but this is hardly the case. The Heat still boast the best player in the NBA, a wuss who is also really good, and a soft power forward who lit up the Bulls tonight. It was a beautiful second half by the Bulls, but this series is just getting stated. As Rose said after winning the last series, “It’s going to be fun.”