Bulls take their talents to South Beach


Mar 6

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Sunday’s Bulls 87-86 win in Miami was for all the coaches and all the neighborhood kids going to the big time playgrounds and for all the hustling little runts who were told to stay outside while the big kids play.

It was about team and sacrifice and commitment and all those intangibles and clichés that we like to say without truly understanding what they mean.

It was about the love of the game and that when the game truly is played right, it is about the team over the individual, about the little guy instead of the ego, about what you can do for the team and the game instead of what it can do for you.

LeBron James had 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Chris Bosh had 23 points and Dwyane Wade had 20 points.

But in taking a one game lead over the Heat for the second seed in the Eastern Conference to go to 43-18 with their fourth win in five games on this road trip, the Bulls got 27 points from Derrick Rose. The Bulls also got 11 points and eight rebounds and too many hustle plays to count from Joakim Noah, 18 points and just about every column in the box score filled up from Luol Deng, a rigorous reserve effort and just enough plays to make a difference.

“We have some guys who can close,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Jo protected the rim and did a great job challenging shots. That’s a big play (defending James) at the end. Derrick has the ability with the ball, Kyle (Korver) is a clutch shooter and Lu. You can trust that guy.

“He does everything for you,” said Thibodeau. “He makes the play, gets Jo’s tip on the loose ball and makes the free throws. He has a tough cover on LeBron the whole time. You can count on that guy every night. He’s a complete player, does everything for us. He’s the glue of our team.”

Still, it was just a one-point victory. Though the Heat seem to be wilting in the glare of the media reminders of their failures to close games and make big shots, 1-8 against the top teams including the Bulls and one for 18, according to an ESPN stat, when they have a chance to tie or win in the last few seconds of a game.

The Heat post game session was a virtual psychiatrist couch with coach Eric Spoelstra saying players were crying, which I detailed in an earlier story, of James saying he told his teammates he’d failed them regularly and that would change and Wade commenting that the world is happy now because they are getting what they want, the Heat losing.

I suspect it’s more about peace and feeding the starving, but Wade is in his own little world.

I assume he’d rather be in the Bulls’ the way he’s been marginalized in the Heat’s offense to accommodate James. And Wade seemed to suggest that in his post game comments sitting next to James when he said this was the biggest challenge of his career because of the way he now has to play.

“When it comes down to the fourth quarter (no longer) having the ball and making a mistake and getting a chance to make up for (it),” Wade said. “(I’m) trying to get comfortable and try to do your best and all you can do. What is pouting going to do? That’s one of the things we’ve got to understand. We all decided to come here together. There are going to be sacrifices to be made and you live with the consequences.”

That seemed to be a message to James that, hey, you don’t need to have the ball all the time and keep missing these shots at the end of games. Yes, the star is supposed to take the big shots, but you came to Miami to play with a star: Me!

But you also get the feeling James is thinking: I gave up a 65-win team, my home city and my reputation to come play with you. You talked me into this. Now you want the ball, too? Relax!

Wade had it much of the fourth quarter, leading the Heat with nine points and making several impressive plays on drives, including a spinning 360 on a miss and recovery he went up with again and scored.

But in the last six minutes after Wade tied the game at 74 with his ninth fourth quarter point on a floater, Wade got two more field goal attempts, the second that last, rushed jumper with 2.2 seconds left that ended the game.

“We’ve had a lot of third quarter lapses,” said Bosh. “It has to be a common denominator. I wish I knew the answer. I don’t think we’ve addressed the problem yet. We have to find the problem first.”

Ooh, ooh, me! Call on me! I know! I know!

It’s Bosh. Well, not completely, but you can see the Heat likely wish they’d done what the Bulls did, though the Bulls might not have done it if they hadn’t failed to get James and Wade. But the Bulls used half their free agent money to sign a group of role players. Miami added their stars and not much else. So anxiety set in for Heat coach Spoelstra early in the fourth quarter when the Bulls took their first lead since early in the game and Spoelstra changed his rotation once again and went back to his main three while Thibodeau kept to his regular reserve group.

So did the Bulls get lucky and just make one more play?

Or because Noah got to sit out almost six minutes into the fourth quarter was he able to get to a ball quicker than any of the Heat stars who played all but a few seconds of the fourth quarter? Why Noah could take the switch the Heat sought and get on James for the last play and force James into a wild runner that effectively ended the game? Why Rose was sharp enough to score six straight points late in the fourth quarter to break from a 76-76 tie with 5:42 left to give the Bulls an 82-76 lead with 3:30 left?

And why in that stretch Wade and James, who both played 42 minutes, missed and why the star duo finished two for six with a turnover?

It’s those little things as well that make up a team effort, and the Bulls seemed to have them on their side.

It was a game about Noah beating three of the biggest stars of the game to the ball and tipping it back to Deng, who was fouled and converted the clinching free throws.

“Jo made the play of the game,” said Deng, who scored the Bulls last five points in the fourth quarter of his 18. “It’s the little things. A lot of people don’t see that. To me, that was the play of the game. That tip. I saw the ball (after he missed the second of two free throws with 17.3 seconds and a chance to tie) and went for it and thought I got pushed and I got a chance to redeem myself.”

Deng converted both free throws for the eventual winning margin, though Heat players moaned it shouldn’t have been a foul. Though on the Heat’s next possession when Noah did a terrific job defending James and Wade got a rebound for a final shot to win, it appeared Wade stepped out of bounds first.

“That was the right call,” said Rose. “I thought (Mike) Miller pushed him.”

“We’re doing a good job focusing on us,” said Deng. All year people want to talk about Miami and everything and all the other teams. We’ve just done a good job getting better.”

It was about Noah taking on James on that exciting last Heat possession. The Bulls generally switch the pick and roll late in games, even with their bigs, like the seven foot Noah.

Heat players said the plan was for James to get a switch, and maybe against any center. But Noah is unusually quick and nimble and going against a seven footer seems to cancel out James’ edge on most players in size.

James maybe beat Noah by a fraction going left. But Noah was quick enough to stay with him and force James to shoot a bad shot high off the backboard that came off the other side and was gathered in by Wade for that last short shot.

“He made a nice move and I tried to recover as fast as I can,” said Noah. “I just tried to make it as tough as possible. I wanted him to shoot over me. It was a miss, so it was good D.”

It wasn’t a great Bulls effort to start, though I thought that was because the Heat was very good. They were closing on threes, which they hadn’t done of late in being blown out in San Antonio and losing that big lead to the Magic.

The Bulls weren’t very good with the ball, committing six turnovers, which is anathema against the Heat. Miami is best in transition and they had a 6-0 first quarter edge in fast breaks. In the half court, the Bulls were pretty good against James with Noah flying all over the court, helping on James and getting back to his man.

The plan was to “show” on James, a big coming as he went to put the ball on the floor just to show him some size and a hand up high behind the initial defender. Which is a tough job as it also requires the big to get back. Miami tried to take advantage using the shooting Ilguaskas, but Noah was so fast Ilgauskas couldn’t get any open looks.

“I thought Jo’s activity was really good,” said Thibodeau. “He did a lot of good things today.”

Deng had one of those big, angry blocks on James that James often gets and closed the first quarter with a big three to keep the Bulls within 22-18.

“The first half we were a step behind,” said Thibodeau. “The second half it was much better. We had turnovers, quick shots (early), poor shot selection and you put them in the open floor and that’s trouble. We stayed within striking distance. The way we started the third quarter gave us a big lift and it was a fight from there on in.”

Miami stayed in control in the second quarter, though Deng had a highlight fast break dunk with James coming from behind ready to block the ball to excite the crowd. Instead, Deng went up strong on the run for a slam out of James’ reach.

Bosh had a big quarter apparently determined after his one of 18 disaster in Chicago 10 days ago, and it was Rose with a twisting drive right and floater for a three point play to end the half with the Bulls hanging in down 49-40.

The Bulls then began to take the game back with Rose putting up a driving layup between Wade and James that defied description about how he got the ball in. Noah again got a nice rolling score on another good interior pass from Deng as Bosh constantly lost Noah inside and the Bulls went on to pull within 65-63 after three.

With Miami staying with their big guys in the desperation nature of the day, there were some different matchups with Rose and Wade playing one another often. That also seemed to bother Wade late when he had Rose several times and couldn’t get the ball.

Thibodeau was doing a much better job than the shaky Spoelstra managing minutes, and he went much of the first half of the final quarter with his bench and they took the lead and gave the starters a 74-71 lead with about seven minutes left.

“The bench has been great,” said Thibodeau. “You can rely on those games and can’t say enough about those guys.”

And then Rose took over, though his three isn’t back yet as he went on to make it 16 straight missed.

“It will come,” said Rose. “I’m not worried at all. I’m going to keep shooting. I’m getting my rhythm back. My (mid range) shots are falling. I’m back to playing good.”

Deng made a tough driving scoring boring through the Miami defense after the Heat got within 82-79 with 2:30 left, and then after two Mario Chalmers scores almost saved it for the Heat, Deng and Noah made their plays to enable the other guys to go home with their third straight win over the once thought unbeatable Heat.

“Jo sticks me sometimes in practice,” said Rose. “LeBron is just bigger. The biggest thing was not fouling. Next thing, get the rebound. It was a tough win, but we got it.”

And, sure, this is hardly over with 20 games left and a playoffs. And in 2006 when the Heat won the title they were 4-16 that regular season against the league’s top teams. But I was reminded of something from last summer after the big free agent coup when Miami landed everyone and the Heat were virtually written into the NBA Finals.

Someone sent me an interview Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf did after the Miami coup.

“Look, what these players did was follow a dream, which is their absolute right. They took less money to play together. And LeBron would’ve made so much more money off the court playing in Chicago than he will in Miami. But they’re following a dream. I respect that,” Reinsdorf said. “I also think we’re a better team than Miami right now, assuming we get a shooting guard. Of course, with LeBron we would’ve been a great team. Without him, we’re still going to be a very good team. If you look at the Miami roster with these three guys but not much else, I think we’ll be better next year.”

Hey, maybe Dan Gilbert will win a title first. Stranger things have happened, I guess.

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