Bulls lose and fall behind Miami 2-1


May 23

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They used to call it the Archangel offense for the Bulls at times like this. You know, save us Michael.

It’s probably unfair and not what this Bulls team truly has been about all season in winning 62 games. But with Sunday’s Miami 96-85 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls probably are looking now—even though no one will say it—for Derrick Rose to save them.

“Just got to make shots,” Rose said after getting 20 points, five assists and five rebounds, certainly reasonable statistics in a low scoring, defensive oriented series. “They’re a good defensive team. We’re loading in on one side, and going for steals. We just got to find a way to find easier baskets. Our will wasn’t there tonight.”

Yes, it was another close fourth quarter game, this time with the Bulls trailing 78-74 with 6:24 remaining.

The Heat, led by Chris Bosh with 34 points, broke it open from there. First the hustling Udonis Haslem picked up a Dwyane Wade bobble on a drive and put the ball in for an 80-74 lead.

Luol Deng threw the ball away trying to squeeze a pass inside to Carlos Boozer, who came back strong offensively with a team high 27 points and 17 rebounds.

Wade, who was having an awful game playing like he was on roller skates with off balance shots and fumbles, ball faked Rose into a foul and two free throws for an 82-74 lead with 5:39 left. These are becoming similar to the old Bulls/Pistons games where Detroit would get an eight point lead with six minutes left and it would be over because the Bulls couldn’t score eight points in six minutes.

The Heat led 18-15 after the first quarter in another brutal, grueling start.

Joakim Noah, who was frustrated throughout with one point, five rebounds but six assists, missed on yet another short drive and Boozer with the follow had his shot blocked by LeBron James. Though Boozer produced well and from the post, his finishes still were indifferent except for one terrific left handed driving slam dunk.

Wade then got another pair of free throws on a drive, making both for an 84-74 Heat lead with 5:25 left, the game beginning to slip away. It, effectively did on the next possessions as Rose got his pass picked off by James, who busted out for a driving score and foul, the three point play giving Miami an 87-74 lead with 5:07 left and you knew there was little chance of the Bulls getting to 87 points against this Miami defense and in this kind of game.

They would not and now Game 4 Tuesday sets up as pretty much the season.

“Must win, monster,” said Boozer. “We want to tie the series up and take it back to Chicago 2-2.”

Which, obviously, would cast a completely different light on a series in which after each game the public consensus seemed to be that team would win the series. After the Game 1 blowout Bulls win, it was that Miami couldn’t deal with the Bulls matchups with size and rebounding. And after the Heat won in Chicago in Game 2, it was the Bulls being unable to handle the James/Wade duo and now after Game 3, it’s that if Miami really has a Big Three with Bosh, what can the Bulls do now.

“A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it’s been to make the adjustment, to play with two other players who dominate the ball so much,” Wade said. “Some games he gets it, some games he doesn’t. So to find a flow, to find a rhythm, sometimes it’s tough. Chris is a professional. He stuck with it. And he’s been able to really explode, have big games. They talked a lot about it in the Boston series, he did what we wanted him to do in the series. He did a great job rebounding the ball and then he started scoring some.  This series he’s really playing big for us. We know that to win the series Chris is probably going to be the guy who probably will lead us in scoring from that standpoint, because of his attack to the basket. So he’s playing great.”

In a sense that is what’s happening.

The Bulls have devoted a defense which remains good (they outrebounded Miami 41-32, 13-5 offensively and led 17-7 in second chance points) to putting up a blockade against James and Wade. They broke through in Game 2, but the Bulls adjusted and tightened their interior shell against them. But you give something up with Noah or Taj Gibson and sometimes Boozer stepping up every time they venture near the lane.

So James pretty much became a point guard, getting 22 points and 10 assists, and Wade was a wild six of 17 shooting for 17 points and nine rebounds.

“Obviously, you have to commit to Wade and James, but that doesn’t absolve you from covering the others,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “You have to have the ability to do both. You have to go in with a multiple effort mindset. You have to close hard. Whenever you put two on the ball, you have to protect the paint and then get back out. I didn’t think we did that.”

Trust me, that sounds a lot easier than it is to do, especially against the athletes Miami has. If you cannot offset that with domination of the boards for easy points, it becomes difficult to rotate, recover, get out on shooters, get back.

So it was left to Bosh and he found the openings, the loose balls, making one on one moves in the post against Noah and getting his second 30-plus game of the series. Bosh made eight straight shots at one point as the Heat won for the eighth straight time at home in the playoffs, 7-0 this season.

“Those shots are there,” said Bosh. “I was just aggressively taking them. “I have to attack with no hesitation. I feel my jumper is good and I can make it. So I look for it. I try to set guys up, and if they crowd me, I go by them. If they are far off me, I trust my jumper enough to let it go. Usually when that happens, I don’t think about it. I just go ahead and shoot it. It’s either a good miss or a make.”

It was mostly make, Bosh 13 for 18 overall.

Yes, Boozer did have his biggest game of the playoffs, but the Heat applied similar defensive concepts to Rose that the Bulls did to James and Wade. Trapping the pick and roll, showing plenty of bodies behind, getting back quickly and not allowing him in transition.

“They’re doubling me every pick and roll,” said Rose. “So just get the ball out of my hands and try to let my teammates create for others. That’s what I’m going to continue to try to do. Sometimes try to beat the double team and sometimes try to pass and make it easy. Just got to find a way to sometimes beat it. I’ve been trying to beat it with the pass. Try to be more aggressive.”

So Rose said he was making the basketball play, letting the game dictate and trusting his teammates, which has been the Bulls business card all season. But Keith Bogans got his four points on three shots, and you can’t score 20 that way. Luol Deng has James to contend with on both ends, and James and Wade have been all league defenders. Though Gibson had 11 points off the bench,  Korver had just one three and two total shots. The Heat has been doing  a much better job running Bulls off the three point line, though the Bulls were a reasonable five of 12. Miami was just three of nine on threes.

But the issue remains of firepower, the scoring to match a top defensive team, an issue which has hung quietly over the Bulls all season and has mostly been ignored because of the great win/loss percentage. The Bulls knew they needed more punch at scoring guard, someone else to make plays off the dribble other than Rose, a high level collective effort. But Sunday the Miami bench had 14 to 20 for the Bulls’, which is not enough when having to deal with three high level scorers. If the Bulls gear their defense to slowing Wade and James, which they did well, they cannot afford to let Bosh get going like he did.

Unless they get a two man performance out of Rose.

Which may be where the team is now.

The argument goes Rose is 22 and 22 year olds never get tired. But not many have to carry a team long and have gotten so far. It’s a grind as with exhibitions the Bulls now have played more than 100 games. And Rose played for USA Basketball last summer. Which is not to make excuses for him if he cannot do it.

Because I suspect he now will be asked for one of those supreme efforts.

I also can see the Bulls going to a lot more isolation and basically letting Rose operate, get into the lane and score or find someone wide open. Miami has done a good job of clogging up Rose’s maneuvering. But the Bulls also haven’t done a very good job of taking advantage of Mike Bibby, the only non athletes Miami has starting. And a really weak defender.

The Bulls generally bring up a big man, mostly Noah and sometimes Boozer, to screen. So the Heat traps with its big man, and Rose has been giving up the ball. He didn’t have an assist in the first half, though the Bulls came out after trailing 43-40 at halftime with determined ball movement in the third quarter and tied the game at 53 midway through the third. The Bulls had six assists in the third quarter after five in the first half.

But Mike Bibby finally made some threes and Udonis Haslem a pair of jumpers to give the Heat a 66-57 lead before Deng responded with a pair of big threes to get the Bulls within 68-65 going into the fourth quarter and seemingly in good shape.

“We had a chance to win the last two games,” said Boozer. “We did not do as good a job down the stretch. Give them credit. They did. That’s something we’ve got to pick up and do better.”

Rose had just two shots and two points in the fourth quarter, and that’s something the Bulls and he will have to do better at as well. I can see Rose in more isolation without a big men setting the screen so it will be harder for the Heat to come with a trap.

Maybe run more pick and roll with Deng or Korver to give the best shooters the Bulls have a chance for more looks.

And run. See Derrick run. Run, Derrick, Run.

Basic, elementary, Dick and Jane stuff.

“You have to get stops and get the ball out, try to get in transition, run late, get some easy scoring opportunities,” said Thibodeau. “But they’re a tough team defensively.”

Yes, we’ve heard that one all season, as well, and in the playoffs, play with pace, get down court before the defense can set, get transition scores since the Bulls don’t have the knockdown shooters. There’s, as Thibodeau said, the issue of defensive stops, but the Heat after shooting 47.1 percent the first two games shot 50.7 percent Sunday.

So if you are taking the ball out of the basket you cannot run, right? Though we’ve heard all season that you run after made baskets as well, make the outlet pass and push. After all the Bulls have likely the game’s fastest player, and did run out for a layup to bring the Bulls within 76-72 wit 7:26 left, and for an early basket and three at the beginning of the third quarter when they were trading baskets with Miami and staying even.

So that will be the mystery heading into Game 4: Can the Bulls speed the game as they are not going to beat Miami scoring 85 points. And will they isolate Rose more to spread the court in the half court, which is part of the issue as the Bulls really have been more a half court executing team this season than a transition team despite the apparent lack of scoring on the roster.

It is difficult to see going back to Chicago trailing 3-1 and beating Miami. Though we as have seen this series changes quickly and with just one game, and the Bulls this season have not lost three in a row.

But it was hardly a smooth night in many ways.

First, the Bulls began the evening with a statement from Derrick Rose refuting an ESPN magazine item (not a story) alleging Rose said the league had a problem with performance enhancing drugs. Rose said he never even was asked that, and though my work appears on this site I do believe him. Rose never talks about stuff like that, even jokingly, which you might hear from other players in jest.

So that seemed to be dismissed fairly quickly when Noah in the first quarter leaving the game was overheard on the TV microphones making a homophobic slur toward  a fan.

Noah was contrite after the game and certainly will be fined by the NBA, though if they have microphones in locker rooms and on the bench in games they might not have enough players at times to finish games. Certainly, Noah’s fit of anger was inappropriate.

“I apologize,” Noah said. “I got caught up. A fan said something to me that I thought was disrespectful. I said something back. I got caught up. I said some things that I shouldn’t have said. I was frustrated and I don’t mean no disrespect to anybody.”

Some players said the fan was yelling obscenities toward Noah regarding his mother.

There also was Omer Asik going out in the third quarter and not returning with a leg injury and some question after the game whether Asik could play in Game 4. In that case you’d expect Kurt Thomas to get some time in the series.

And then there was the so called bulletin board material, a pet peeve of Thibodeau’s. You can tell form Thibodeau’s comments that every coach is a potential Hall of Famer and every opponent is a potential All Star he doesn’t believe much in trash talking. He often makes that point to his players, and you haven’t heard any comments from Noah about no one wanting to vacation in Miami. Of course, that would be in error. But it’s not the point.

Ever since the close of Game 6 in Atlanta when Boozer mentioned in passing the Heat having two great players, media has been asking Bosh and Boozer about this, and Bosh did say Sunday, whether it was true or not that he thinks about that often. Boozer, for his part, says he always considered Bosh a great player.

“We’ve been through so much in the regular season that comments really don’t affect me too much,” said Bosh. “I just go out there and try to be aggressive. You can find inspiration in all kinds of different ways. But I mean, it does nothing but help. Yeah, I think about it when I’m shooting. It helps me out. It helps me get some extra reps up. If I practice enough, I go a little longer. For one, I want to win. And we have an opportunity to compete for a championship. So we have to keep going.”

Miami did, slogging through that 18-15 first quarter lead as the Bulls shot six of 24. That’s also a key for the Bulls, and Rose, to come out faster, pushing the ball and Rose attacking to open, though he did take eight first quarter shots. Noah drew two fouls five minutes in and the Bulls couldn’t get much going.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” said Noah. “I’m really disappointed about the way I played. It’s a tough loss, but we’re excited about the opportunity to come back Tuesday.”

It was something of a Bosh/Boozer shootout in the second quarter with Bosh scoring 13 and Boozer nine as the offenses warmed up and both worked out of the post effectively.

But Miami kept that 43-40 lead at halftime, extended it and it remained three after three and the Bulls just didn’t have enough.

“There is absolutely nothing easy in this series, and it’s still all about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “And the last couple of games we’ve been able to do that at the end. But it is a battle, it is a scrap, it is a fight every single possession. And our focus has been about enduring and staying the course all the way until the end. He (Bibby) arguably has the toughest fight of anybody, and that’s trying to get his chest in front of that tornado. Even when we have other people to help and bodies in front and try to shrink the court, there’s so many explosive unpredictable movements, it’s a challenge.”

In the series, Bosh is averaging 24.7, James 22 and Wade 19.7. That’s about 65 points. For the Bulls, Rose is averaging 23 points, Deng 16 and Boozer 15.7 for about 55 points per game. Rose may just have to make up that 10 points himself to save the Bulls again.

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