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Bulls rebound against Miami
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 5
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That’s it! That’s all you got?
Well, nobody on the Bulls actually said that after a convincing and impressive 96-89 road win Friday over the defending champion Miami Heat. But the Bulls in going to 18-13 essentially said that with their dominant play.
No one is quite writing off the Heat yet as they still lead the Eastern Conference with a 22-9 record. But the Bulls supplied the rest of the NBA the blueprint for beating Miami, even if the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t pull it off in last season’s Finals. The Heat ranks next to last in the league in rebounding and tries to beat you with shooting and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade closing games. Rebounds equal rings, Heat president Pat Riley always exclaimed. The Heat won without them. Though there’s a question of whether they can again, effectively the first full challenge to the Heat’s NBA supremacy.
“I don’t know if that small ball is gong to work against us,” said Joakim Noah of the Bulls dominating 48-28 edge in rebounds, 20-7 in second chance points and 19-4 on the offensive boards.
Champions don’t get beaten like that.
“Not with a guy like Carlos Boozer in the game,” Noah continued in an upbeat Bulls locker room. “It was a great win for us. I thought Carlos played very well, defensively as well. He was very active in the post. That was huge for us. That play when he dove on the floor, caught it and he passed to Taj (Gibson) and he got fouled. I thought that was the play of the game. We outhustled them.”
That was one of several big time plays by Boozer, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in his second big game in a row, and Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson down the stretch with Robinson and Boozer scoring 13 of the Bulls’ 21 points in the fourth.
Boozer several times dove to the floor to grab loose balls, this last one with the Bulls leading 79-73 with Miami starting to close with almost eight minutes left. Gibson made one of two, but the change in momentum was crucial after James effectively got a four point play—all free throws—after a flagrant foul by Noah.
Just before that Robinson, who finished with 13 points, deflected a James cross court pass with an acrobatic leap, saving the ball as it was going out of bounds. It came after a James dunk had energized the home crowd to finish a 6-0 Miami run to start the fourth to get the Heat within 75-72 with 9:26 left.
But it was the Bulls making the big plays down the stretch with Jimmy Butler making a classic fundamental play following his own miss to get the rebound and pass to Boozer for a layup and the clinching basket as the Bulls went ahead 93-86 with under a minute left. Just seconds before that, Boozer stripped the ball from Chris Bosh for a turnover as Bosh was trying to make a move with 1:13 remaining. But Boozer anticipated Bosh’s turn back and was waiting, leading to Butler’s play.
The Bulls simply outworked, outplayed and outthought a stunned Heat team.
“There’s not a whole lot to say,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “You (media) guys already could write your stories. Everyone understands in both locker rooms what the overwhelming key to the game was. They pounded us. They pounded us on second chance points. They were just throwing it up there and playing volleyball against us. It’s not the first time we got pounded by Chicago on the glass. They had us on our heels the entire night on that backboard.”
Offered James, who had 30 points, including 13 of 16 at the line: “It’s a reoccurrence. We got smashed on the glass.”
But Luol Deng, concentrating on defense, kept James from dominating as he had just six rebounds and two assists. James also seemed awfully frustrated as he appeared to tell the officials not to “talk to me like that” late in the game when the Heat were straining to get back in and Wade was called for an offensive foul against Butler.
“We have to find a way to fix it or we are going to keep losing those games,” said Wade, who added 22 points and his usual half dozen diva poses after not getting foul calls on drives.
This has been a big question regarding the Heat this season, even though it’s been tough to make the case given they played small and won in the Finals. But many around the NBA have wondered how you could continue to win as small as they play with the finesse Chris Bosh playing center.
The Heat has been winning plenty that way with their stars and especially James’ superior play. But the question was what happens when you get against a bigger team in a slower game, a halfcourt wrestling contest like the Bulls generally prefer.
It’s the regular season, and one game doesn’t have much meaning for long. Still, it was an eye opener to Miami, and though not generally mentioned it was without Derrick Rose playing.
Rose joined the Bulls on what became this highly successful road trip and though no one wants to put pressure on Rose, the delicious possibility remained that if the Bulls could win in Miami without him, then if he could even give them a little in the playoffs who knows what would happen.
No one wanted to go there, and the team decided to stay in Miami overnight, giving the players a few nice hours to celebrate in spectacular Miami weather of 80 degree days and mild nights.
“Great win for us,” added Noah, who coming off missing the Orlando game with the flu added 13 points and 12 rebounds. “We just pounded the glass, a great team effort. We played for each other. We needed it. We haven’t been playing great basketball. This probably was our biggest win of the year, against the defending champs. We know we can beat the best. We also can lose to the worst. It happened in the same week. You’ve got to enjoy the process and we’re going to. Nate was huge with that charge. I haven’t been that hyped in a long time. Los (Boozer) was big all night. He can score so well around the basket.
“Great offensive rebounds, Jimmy at the end passing to Booz, Nate taking the charge. Those are winning plays,” said Noah, “effort plays. They drove the baseline and there always was someone there to trap. It always feels good to beat the Heat. And we get a night out in the city, so we’re hyped right now. We haven’t been playing great basketball and this is probably our biggest win of the year against the defending champs.
“But I know Spoelstra is going to come and I know what’s going to happen,” added Noah. “He’s going to get them all hyped for the next game because we knocked them on their asses on the glass. So they’re going to try to make it a physical game. That’s cool.”
Sure, who ever thought at this point in the season, if not necessarily a great rivalry, the Bulls would at least have Miami’s attention.
Deng had just six points, five assists and four rebounds, but he did a beautiful job keep James from taking off and involving his teammates. While the Heat like to trap the pick and roll and recover, the Bulls prefer to push it to the sideline where they can get the combination of inside help and the use to the sideline and endline to pin it in. The Bulls were impressively disciplined, keeping the ball on one side of the court most of the game and then closing out on the shooters as Miami was just five of 20 on threes. Ray Allen had just five points as he doesn’t seem to get involved enough. Instead of running those baseline screens like with Boston, Miami has him spotting up and standing, which limits his great ability to find open space.
The Bulls also were much better moving the ball as they had 22 assists to 17 for Miami with Kirk Hinrich having a good floor game with eight assists.
The Heat like to use the fast break and turnovers to ignite them and excite their home crowd as they came in 15-2 at home. The key to that is watching that first pass where James and Wade play the passing lanes and look to get going like they did with that big James slam dunk early in the fourth quarter that brought the Heat within three. That came after a turnover. But the Bulls cleaned that up a bit after an uneven first half start with nine turnovers.
It is crucial against Miami to get past that first pass and move the ball as the Heat isn’t particularly good at recovering. They rely a lot on trapping the pick and roll out high to get those turnovers and fats breaks. But the Bulls were much more poised in fighting off the traps and working the ball side to side for better shots.
“I thought Kirk ran the team great,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who seemed unusually pleased as he smiled at reporters after the game. “He got the right guys in the right spots. The past couple of games the ball was really hopping. No one was holding onto it and dancing with it. I thought we fought hard, battled and things went our way in the end. We understand how important rebounding is and it showed tonight. That was the difference in the game.”
Boozer was big again, his fourth straight double/double and team leading 16th of the season after 31 points and 11 rebounds in the Wednesday win in Orlando. The Bulls now are 8-1 on the road against the Eastern Conference and 9-5 overall away from the United Center.
It also was a big plus night for the bench as Thibodeau has begun to use reserves late in the game and Butler is continuing to impress with big time plays under pressure. Butler didn’t hesitate with that shot with the Bulls ahead 91-86 with 1:13 left after Boozer stripped Bosh. But then Butler followed the ball to get the rebound away from the Heat and in one motion pass to Boozer for the easy score.
“I can’t say I meant to follow it,” said Butler, who has been playing the defensive shooting guard role. “I guess it was instinct. Me and Lu looked at each another, Lu gave LeBron a little shove and I just came up with the ball, ball faked and passed to Booz. When you shoot you know where it is going and I knew it was short. So I just hustled after it.”
It also was another good game for the new Bulls bench, outscoring Miami 33-14, and Butler said the new reserves are meshing well.
“We’re comfortable,” Butler said. “We’re getting closer with each other off the court. And we’re getting to know where everyone likes to be on the court. I miss the guys from last year, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a new time and a new year and I feel we’re moving forward and I like the guys we have.”
The Bulls actually took it to Miami all game, opening up a 26-22 lead in the first quarter as they closed the first with a 10-0 run. Gibson had a terrific offensive rebound and score and Boozer had it going making all five of his shots. Miami tried to put Boozer in their pick and roll, which many teams do. But Boozer was on the ball, stepping up and not giving easy scores.
“Carlos has been great,” said Thibodeau. “He’s been playing very well on both ends, getting good post position, executive the pick and roll.”
And Boozer admitted he was showing off just a bit with 70 family and friends at the game as he lives in Miami in the offseason.
“Thibs is coming to me,” said Boozer. “I’m playing off my teammates, trying to be aggressive. I have not really been as efficient a scorer this year and that’s my New Year’s resolution, to be more efficient. Jimmy had big plays, Nate had great shots. It was fun to see. Everyone was scrapping, diving for loose balls. That’s how we have to go. We’re still shorthanded (without Rose). We have to scratch out wins. We want to build on this. My teammates are doing a great job giving me the ball where I can be effective and it’s working out. We hope to keep it going.”
Miami made up a little to get within 49-48 at halftime, though they had trouble controlling Noah with eight points and five rebounds in the quarter. Noah did have the flu, missing the Orlando game and unable to do much in the home loss against Charlotte. But Thibodeau said Noah also wasn’t quite himself in the previous losses against the Hawks and Rockets, which shows how much of a leader Noah has become. Thibodeau as well understands it’s often Noah’s energy which drives the Bulls as they are not a team with outspoken verbal leaders.
“He’s (Noah) been low energy probably the last couple of weeks now,” said Thibodeau. “He has to understand how important it is for him to go hard every day. That’s the kind of leadership we need from him.”
The Bulls began to get some space from Miami in the third quarter, taking a 75-66 lead after three with 62.5 percent shooting as Boozer, Hamilton and Richard Hamilton were a combined seven for 10. Marco Belinelli hit the first of his two big baskets, a three late in the third before a terrific running bank shot with about two minutes left in the game that gave the Bulls a 91-82 lead.
Back in the third, meanwhile, Boozer had a mean fake to get past Chris Bosh for a score, Noah and Boozer worked well with inside passing for scores and the Bulls seemed to be pulling away. But you can’t discount the Heat, and not only being defending champions. James understands he’s clearly their star and the responsibility is on him. It seems he gets 20 or 30 points routinely like Michael Jordan would for the Bulls.
So the Heat looked like they were ready to take the game in the fourth when Noah grabbed James going by, accidentally getting his neck. It wasn’t that sort of angry game quite yet as Noah also grabbed James to break his fall. But a flagrant was called, James made two free throws and Miami got the ball again and James was fouled for effectively a four point play to bring Miami within 75-70 with 10:16 left.
But it would be the Bulls making the winning plays, Robinson with that high flying cross court pass steal and save and then drawing a charge, the Bulls getting multiple chances with six offensive rebounds in the quarter, Robinson with a big three to make it 83-73 with 6:34 left, Noah hitting Boozer for a score after Miami got within 87-82 late, Belinelli then with his running back shot, Boozer on the floor to save a loose ball, big plays at big times as the Heat could not respond.
It thus raises the question for Miami about whether to go back to the lineups they used for almost two years before last season’s conference finals with low scoring Joel Anthony or whether they can find a big man somewhere, even someone not so big like Kenyon Martin.
The Bulls, meanwhile, got an important boost in knowing that size and depth edge they felt they had over Miami last season has not completely dissipated and who knows what’s ahead come springtime. It felt like May in Chicago in Miami—OK, maybe late May, or early July—but the Bulls demonstrated that you might not want to be playing them when the Midwest warms up again.
“Obviously,” said Hinrich, “they’re the type of team being champions you can kind of measure yourself against. We’ve been struggling of late and wanted to come in and play well and get back to the way we were playing. We’ve got high character guys who have proven in this league they can do well. As simple as it sounds, we weren’t defending, rebounding well or sharing the ball. We wanted to get back to those things as we know if we do them we can have a good chance at success against anybody.”