Bulls facing vital Game 4


May 24

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Sometimes the other guy is just better.

Which is not saying the Miami Heat is better than the Bulls and hardly that this Eastern Conference finals series is over with Miami having a 2-1 lead with Game 4 in Miami Tuesday.

But the Bulls have lost two straight after a brilliant opening game win, and while they were in Games 2 and 3 midway through the fourth quarter in both, it was the Heat which closed impressively and created issues the Bulls have difficulty solving.

In loading their defense to control LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, which the Bulls have done well, they’ve limited the defensive attention toward Chris Bosh. And who can argue that.

Instead, Bosh is leading all scorers in the series at 24.7 per game with two games of at least 30 points.

“There’s another guy called Dwyane Wade that’s pretty good,” said Joakim Noah, who was permitted by reporters to answer basketball questions after multiple apologies for his use of an offensive term in Game 3 toward a fan. “There’s another guy called LeBron James and he’s pretty good, too. There’s other responsibilities on the court. It’s not just about crowding one player.”

In effect, if you are going to defend and help against two guys, that leaves one guy to guard three. And if one is named Bosh and he’s hitting shots, really, what else are you supposed to do?

“They were committed to taking the ball out of LeBron and Dwyane’s hands last night in particular, and I thought they both read the game well,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “Chris ended up being a big time recipient of that. It took a maturity to understand that and IQ to read the game. But tomorrow night’s game could be different. I think it’s important that we come in with a fresh mind, not pre-determined, but rather to be aggressive, read the game and see what develops.”

Also, a good team will illustrate your weaknesses, and the Heat is doing that.

Look, the Bulls haven’t faced a defense in these playoffs with two all-league defenders, which James and Wade have been. Plus, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are providing athletic help.

The Bulls are not a particularly athletic team. We’ve known that. Who could be asked but Derrick Rose to be on Dancing with the Stars? No one’s being invited to celebrity superstars. When Keith Bogans got a fast break in Game 3, he was ahead of the field. But Miami ran him down and he had to pull the ball out rather than shooting a layup. Plus, if you don’t have enough knock down shooters on the perimeter, James and Wade will crowd the middle, which they do, thus further cutting off drives into the lane.

The Bulls ran a back door cut for Deng to open Game 3 and it worked beautifully on James. But I can’t recall them trying that much again as they do tend to get away from stuff that’s worked, though James is good enough on defense to be wary as well.

So Noah helps on penetration and is out of position for rebounds. The Bulls don’t get their so called big man to big man inside help so well all the time, and now Omer Asik is questionable for Game 4 with a leg injury. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Kurt Thomas would play, and perhaps he opens things up a bit with his pick and pop shooting.

“Overall our rebounding was pretty good,” said Noah, noting the 41-32 edge in the Game 3 loss and 17-7 in second chance points. “We beat them on the boards pretty good. But they shot 50 percent. That was the problem.

“There’s a lot of basketball to be played and we don’t feel we’re dominated at all,” said Noah. “We have a lot of work to do. We’re wiling to put in the work. But there’s not an answer to everything. You’ve just got to go out there and play even harder.”

That has been the Bulls success story all season in reaching the best record in the NBA, though they came into this series the underdogs not only among most media but the Las Vegas oddsmakers.

“All we’ve done to this point is exactly what they did at home,” said Spoelstra. “There’s not going to be one easy possession in this series, and it will likely always come down to some kind of possession game there in the fourth quarter. If we don’t get two here, that win is wasted. It will be a challenge. They’re a very good road team. They’ll bounce back, as we expect they will. But we have to prepare and endure.”

Still, the point being that two stars beat one, and two and a half, if that’s what it is for Miami, beats one and a half, one and three quarters? Two and a third? I’m not fully sure how these fractions work, anyway.

Are the Bulls LeBron’s old Cavaliers without the complementary pieces when the opposition has more overall talent?

“Their team is a little bit different than ours (in Cleveland),” James said Monday after Heat practice. “They have two max players. I was the only max player on my team. They got some great complementary players as well. You know, I can relate. I can definitely relate, having the coach of the year and getting the MVP and then going to get out and go against people who have multiple guys that can go against you and break you down. I can relate to what he’s (Rose) going through right now. I think it’s the luxury (now) of having guys that can make plays besides myself. They have a great team. I’m not about to sit here and say this team is down and out. That’s a great team. We are looking forward to the challenge. We know they’re going to bring it in Game 4.”

Bring what, exactly, is the question.

Carlos Boozer had 26 points and 17 rebounds in by far his best playoff game. Can he duplicate that? Deng has continued to work, but James’ speed and defense in closing is difficult on him as Deng isn’t the kind of player to manufacture his own shot. He made two big clutch threes at the end of the third quarter of Game 3 to keep the Bulls close going into the fourth. So perhaps he and Kyle Korver get in the deep, short corners and wait for Rose.

Yes, the MVP.

It’s been a tougher series for Rose even though Miami hasn’t exactly invented defense. They show on the pick and roll, hanging with Rose until he gives up the ball. He is averaging 23 in the series, though 27.6 overall in the playoffs.  But he’s shooting just 39.1 percent against Miami and 30.8 percent on threes. He’s coming off two points in the fourth quarters of the last two games.

“That’s not me,” said Rose after the team watched film but did not practice. “They are trying to get the ball out of my hands so my teammates can make plays. I saw what they did. I definitely believe in (my teammates). I just want to see now what I can do.”

The series is not over if Miami wins, but down 3-1 is an unlikely hole to recover from against the Heat.

I personally think Rose is a bit worn down and a bit frustrated about the way he’s being played.

“Our only job is to make sure when he comes to the basket — he’s one of the best penetrators they have — that he sees three guys, if not more,” said Wade. “Just try to make it tough on him. He’s one of the best finishers, so that’s all we’re doing. We’re just trying to put bodies in front of him, try to stay in front of him and make him take tough shots. He’s going to hit some. But hopefully we can continue to wear him down at the end of the games where he doesn’t make the same ones he made earlier.

“He’s so fast and so quick,” said Wade. “You have to give him some space. Our only job is when he pulls up for a jumpshot, just to try to contest. You’re not going to block it. He’s so athletic, he can get up so high. Put an arm up, and when he comes to the basket, it’s a team thing. It’s not just one guy. Everybody has to be there. He’s going to make some tough, unbelievable shots. For the most part over the course of the game, some of those shots are going to get even more difficult when you have guys coming for it. He’s obviously the head of the state. We understand that as he goes, they go. If we can slow him a little bit, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Nothing much different mind you, but by better, more athletic defenders who are motivated.

“I’m fine,” said Rose with a smile. “Trust me, I’m fine. It’s no excuses. Even if I was tired you know I wouldn’t tell you. I’m good. The last couple of games I’ve just been trying to make the right play. Sometimes I have to take the double team on to open up my teammates. I have to be more aggressive.”

It is a tough call, and let’s remember Rose despite being MVP is making his first appearance out of the first round of the playoffs. The MVP is for the regular season. And the Bulls have gone through more a fairy tale popular season compared with Miami’s. And who knows how you react when it gets tougher.

“That’s just something we faced all year in the regular season,” Bosh said of media and fan pressure and hostility. “Usually stuff like that doesn’t happen ‘til the playoffs. But with us, fans have been saying stuff to us forever. We’ve been getting booed forever. We’ve been under the microscope and the media for the whole season. Sometimes it can test you. It’s not the easiest thing to deal with. We’re used to it. I think sometimes other teams and other guys, just for that split second, they might just feel a certain way and let their guard down.”

The Pacers were a sub-.500 team and the Hawks were a break given the absence of their best perimeter defender in Kirk Hinrich and a relatively soft defensive attitude. Not so with Miami, which has had good defensive teams as a philosophy since Pat Riley arrived.

Rose is being asked by Thibodeau to make the right play, which is to move the ball against the double team. He’s being asked to push the ball, but not make turnovers because Miami’s strength is transition scores, especially at home to evoke the crowd. Run but don’t make mistakes. Let the game come to you but don’t be passive. The melding of knowledge and instinct is generally what they call experience.

There’s been talk of having Rose isolate on top more and not bring the screener up where he can double. But Miami would just bring a second defender up, anyway, and then the issue is if you throw it to, say, Noah, is he even going to try to shoot. Bogans? Perhaps Thomas provides more offensive options, though Miami has struggled to get to the rim with Asik on the floor. I do expect the Bulls will go to more side pick and roll, where Rose also can get some better isolation opportunities.

But given the circumstances, as Rose would say, he’s got to go back to just ballin’.

“A lot is on me,” Rose admitted. “Everything. The whole game. I was trying to beat the double teams with the pass the last couple of games. I’ve just got to, I guess, go back to my old way and take it on. Find ways. I don’t know (how), but find a way.

“I was thinking too much,” said Rose. Me passing the ball the majority of the time isn’t working.”

Remember when we had the Derrick is shooting too much controversy even as the Bulls were winning? Now he’s not shooting enough and they are losing.

“We’re running the right play to get people open,” said Rose. “(Tuesday) I’ve got to be way  more aggressive from beginning to end. I have to change right now. Usually when I come out (to start the game), I see how they are playing me. They’ve been double teaming me, especially on the pick and roll with a show high and the bigs staying until they get the ball out of my hands. I’ve just got to find a way. I don’t know how, but I’ve got to do it. I’m going to search out the opportunity and go for it. I just need more space and I have a chance of doing something great.”

It would be a good time.

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