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Bulls sweep the Heat
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 6
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Who knew the Big Three would turn out to mean an 0-3 record against the Bulls this season?
And so it was Sunday in Miami as the Bulls completed a season sweep of the Heat with a thrilling 87-86 victory clinched on a brilliant last defensive sequence with Joakim Noah playing textbook perfect defense against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade symbolically coming up short after a scramble for the final loose ball.
The win gave the Bulls a 43-18 record and a one game edge on Miami for second place in the Eastern Conference after sweeping through Florida on this 4-1 road trip while the Heat, 43-20, have lost four straight.
Miami now is 1-9 against San Antonio, Boston, Dallas, Chicago and the L.A. Lakers.
Although there are no such scientific measurements, the victory likely knocks out James from the MVP award as it’s difficult to justify voting someone MVP after his team failed to beat a chief rival in any game.
James did score 26 points and got eight rebounds and six assists while Rose had 27 points and five assists. Chris Bosh after that awful one of 18 in the loss to the Bulls 10 days ago, scored 23 while Wade had 20, though with seven turnovers.
Luol Deng came through big for the Bulls with a team high nine fourth quarter points, including the last five on a tough drive for an 84-79 lead with 2:30 left and three of four free throws. The last one, the eventual winner, came when Deng missed the second of two and gathered the ball in after Noah tipped it back and Deng made both with 15.9 seconds left.
Then Noah took that switch in isolation against James, arguably the game’s most dominant physical figure, and went into a classic defensive stance, knees bent low, hands up. The key was avoiding the foul, and as James drove left Noah backpeddled with his arms up and the Bulls in a tight core of crossed arms blocking James’ vision.
James fired off a wild one that Wade came up with along the baseline with the clock running out and quickly threw up a last, desperate attempt short. The ball settled into the hands of Keith Bogans and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau erupted with a fist pump that would have if it connected knocked out Marvin Hagler.
Of course, he’s 60.
As fulfilling as the win was for the Bulls, it was funereal for the Heat as coach Erik Spoelstra admitted after the game, “There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now.”
Yes, there is crying in basketball.
Miami reporters sought out the identities after the game as in their curious post game appearances, Bosh comes out alone and then Wade with James, all in an interview room.
Bosh said it wasn’t him, but he said he almost cried. James said it wasn’t him. So Wade was asked if it was him.
“Why you want to know if I was crying,” said Wade. “I’m not going to tell you that.”
Everyone was pretty sure it wasn’t Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
James also admitted in what is becoming a psychiatrist’s couch of a Heat season that he told his team he had let them down repeatedly in late game situations and he promised that will change.
“I had a step on Joakim,” said James. “I knew he was going to use his length to bother the shot. I’ve made plenty of left handed layups over bigs before. I’ve just got to go at him the next time. I told my team I’m not going to continue to fail late in games.
“I put a lot of blame on myself,” James continued. “I told the guys I just keep failing them late in games and I won’t continue to do that. I said it in the locker room and I’ll continue to push and make sure I come through for our team.”
In many respects, the Bulls were outplayed, certainly in the first half when they were fortunate to trail 49-40 at halftime (I’ll have a more detailed story later).
What has showed in these games with Miami, though particularly Sunday in a game that mattered much more for Miami after having lost to the Magic and Spurs in the previous three days and losing both to the Bulls, is the Bulls are a team and the Heat is three guys.
Miami never gets much from its bench, and Sunday the Bulls reserves outscored Miami’s 16-6. Also, Spoelstra deviated from his various rotations in what seemed like a panicked move to get James and Bosh on the floor the entire fourth quarter and Wade for more than 10 minutes. The Bulls stuck with their regular rotation and reserves to open the fourth. That is rare for Miami and another signal of how much winning this game meant to the Heat.
They continue talking about making stands and continue to fall on their face.
It seemed ever more obvious James and Wade are duplicates who don’t fit. The Heat has too much talent, if that can compute.
Wade got things going in the middle of the fourth quarter and few get to the basket better than he does, and certainly not James, especially when you have to take a zig zag path. James is a locomotive trying to run you over. Wade is Hugh McElhenny in the open field (look it up). Ok, Barry Sanders. But the Heat constantly defer to James, and Wade after the game even with James sitting next to him made a bunch of veiled comments about sacrifice. If James went to college he might have known whom Wade was talking about.
By all accounts they are good friends, but they seem to play on parallel courses. I like James to be able to make the big play, and I don’t blame him for trying Sunday. But they cannot seem to blend and get the best out of one another.
Whereas the Bulls, with seemingly much less talent as Carlos Boozer struggled again inside with just 12 points and zero free throws, seem to make much more of less overall talent.
Noah had 11 points and eight rebounds, but was just terrific in helping, switching on defense as the Bulls have the athletic bigs to do so and constantly knocking balls loose. After being outrebounded in the first half, the Bulls ended up outrebounding Miami 36-30. The Heat did shoot better, have more assists and make more free throws, though the latter by one.
But the Bulls made the opportunity plays and perhaps got a break on that foul call against Deng going for that missed free throw. No, the Bulls didn’t dominate Miami. But they came into their building with the Heat desperate for a win and playing on national TV and overcame a 12-point deficit to win a playoff type game.
“Outside, the Miami Heat are what everyone wants, losing games,” said Wade with what seemed like a bit of a bitter sneer. “The world’s better now since we’re losing. It’s painful, it hurts. We’ll move on and we’ll learn from it.”
This should set up some great playoff theater.