Miami turns up heat to even series at 1-1


May 9

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The Miami Heat came out in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday against the Bulls like they often do, posing and preening like they are at a fashion show, offended anyone would dare challenge them, whining and complaining about the temerity of the Bulls taking a 1-0 lead.

By Wednesday, it was obvious the beaten up Bulls had gotten their attention, and the Heat’s dominating 115-78 victory—the Bulls worst losing playoff margin in franchise history and the Heat’s largest winning margin—devolved into a sordid evening of anger, frustration and retribution with 51 personal fouls, nine technical fouls and Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah ejected.

That’s how you get ready for playoff basketball.

There was a Udonis Haslem shot knocking down Nate Robinson 12 seconds into the game. Marco Belinelli wrapped up Dwyane Wade nine seconds later on a runout and Wade drew a technical for throwing the ball at Belinelli. LeBron James swung an elbow at Noah late in the quarter with about 11 seconds left as Noah tried to wrap him up. Noah then started face guarding James on the inbounds pass. It really was just beginning. Chris Andersen cross body blocked Belinelli out of bounds, drawing a flagrant foul and Mario Chalmers got a technical foul for grabbing Noah around the neck and then the two began yelling at one another. Noah got tangled and fell with Shane Battier, who laid an extra elbow into Noah in pretending to brace himself to get up.

It also boiled over for the Bulls in a game in which the seemingly overmatched officiating crew that really was the NBA’s version of the 12th man of officials apparently blew a goaltending call against Anderson and Noah, and then Gibson offered their view of how lead official Scott Foster had handled everything. Both were ejected with Gibson being led off spewing a stream of profanities that likely will draw him a fine.

Joakim Noah

“This is the playoffs. It’s part of basketball,” said Carlos Boozer. “(If) you feel like you’re being cheated you’re going to say something about it. Regardless, we don’t put the blame on anyone else. We’ll play better and move on.”

Quite the opening act for Game 3 in Chicago Friday.

“We got punched in the mouth tonight,” agreed Noah with a tone of defiance for a game in which the Bulls were behind by 46. “We’ll be back; we’ll be back in two days. That game isn’t going anywhere. The ball is going to go up and we’ll be there. It’s not about not liking someone. It’s two teams that want to win. We came here and we did our job. We won a game; we got the home court (back).

“I guess I deserved to be kicked out,” added Noah. “We did not play well. It’s not the end of the world It’s 1-1. It’s going to be a big Game 3 in Chicago.”

That’s in the United Center, and you can feel the emotion rumbling already, a self entitled Heat team with a measure of desperation against a mostly dismissed Bulls team that believes in itself more than anyone does.

The Bulls mostly got crushed Wednesday, though not until a late second quarter Miami spurt when the Bulls defenses evaporated and Miami closed the quarter with a 13-3 run for a 55-41 halftime lead.

Until then, the Heat was looking shaky and mostly uptight except for LeBron James, who had a dozen first quarter points on six of six shooting. With 3:42 left in the third, the Bulls were hanging in down 42-38 and that basket seemed to be getting smaller; James was making plays, but Dwyane Wade couldn’t get up for a dunk and Chris Bosh was blowing layups he should have dunked. But Nate Robinson lost Norris Cole as he made back to back threes and the Heat was off.

They began pulling away to open the second half with that first half breathing room and then hit the Bulls with an 11-0 with a revived Wade and it was over, a 75-47 Miami lead seven minutes into the second half, Chalmers trying that neck takedown of Noah a few minutes later. Then early in the fourth quarter, Noah leaped off the bench, yelling at official Scott Foster after a Gibson shot was called a block. He began to walk on the court gesturing and talking to Foster and had to be restrained by Derrick Rose, Noah walking off with an hysterical fan screaming obscenities at him and making obscene gestures.

And we thought they were so laid back in the tropics.

Must have been the humidity.

Then Gibson joined Noah in voicing his own blue language toward Foster as he was escorted back to the locker room.

Who the heck even knows who finished the game.

“We got sidetracked and you can’t do that,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We showed a lot of frustration to carry over to the next play. You have to have poise under pressure. You come in here, you’re not going to get calls. That is the way it is. That’s reality. You can’t get wrapped up in that stuff. You have to stay focused on the task at hand. We have to get the job done.

“We are capable of much better and we’re going to have to be a lot better,” said Thibodeau. “They’re going to be hard fought, competitive. You get into a fight you’re going to get hit. You can’t allow people to get you back on your heels.”

Thibodeau avoided criticizing the officials, yet he offered the ultimate indictment: You aren’t going to get calls in Miami. Why not? Isn’t a foul a foul? Look, the Bulls weren’t about to win this game, it would seem, being outrebounded 41-28, being outscored inside by a staggering 56-18 and in fast break points 20-2.

Those are the constants against Miami: Don’t let them run out and dunk, keep them off the boards and keep them outside. The Bulls did none of that.

And they probably let a poor officiating crew get to them. The rule of thumb in the NBA is you add up the numbers on the backs of the referee’s shirts. If it’s over 1000, it could be uneven. For a playoff game, it was surprising to have such a crew whose numbers added up to 184. And coming to Miami, where the complaining reaches a crescendo against an intense home crowd in a playoff setting, only opens the way for a game to spin out of control. Which is what happened Wednesday in a fury of foul calls and cheap shots the officials were unable to counter.

“On (my) first technical, I felt there were elbows being thrown,” said Noah. “I was going to try to get Jimmy (Butler). I was just going to get my teammate to see if he was all right. I ran over there and I got a technical, I guess for running. We have to keep our composure and play better. That’s the bottom line

“I don’t know how many techs we got,” said Noah being told six, the most in a playoff game in eight years. “That’s a ton of technical fouls. We’re giving up points at the free throw line. I guess I’d call that not keeping cool.

“Not being very Zen,” Noah offered with a shy smile and shrug.

So, no, the Bulls didn’t seem all that upset or depressed afterward. It was perhaps a welcome invitation to maybe a long series.

Ok, that’s the way it’s going to be. No problem. The Bulls know that game. Come into my parlor, the spider said to the fly.

“We’re better than that,” said Gibson. “Including myself. We play ball the right way. We handle ourselves accordingly with referees. This hardly happens to me. It was a sign of frustration, getting blown out in a playoff game on national TV. That’s a good team over there Just frustration. We didn’t hold up our end. We made things too easy on Miami.

“It was a physical game,” agreed Gibson of the sort of game they figure works for them. “You can’t rely on the refs to bail you out. You’ve got to go in and play. Unfortunately, we went off our game plan and got ourselves in a big hole. We’ve got to do better and hold our composure. Nothing is going to come easy.”

In other words, OK, that’s the way you what it. That works.

The Bulls aren’t usually the sort of group that overreacts to officials. That’s in the Miami game plan. It’s not a team with great expectations, and thus no great pressure. But anyone feels an inequity. Along with a push in the back, an elbow to the head, a body block or an undercut.

It should be a wild basketball weekend in Chicago with games Friday and Monday before the series returns to Miami next week for Game 5.

Though there were more speculation about a Derrick Rose return, the latest on TNT after the game, nothing seemed to have changed. Thibodeau didn’t indicate anything regarding either the health of Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich, who both remain questionable for Game 3.

Marco Belinelli

But the Bulls showed they can win with this group, though not with Belinelli leading in scoring with 13 points and Noah with 12. James left the game early with 19 after his dominant first quarter while Ray Allen led the Heat with 21 points. Wade added 15 and the Heat shot 60 percent overall and nine of 18 on threes.

So this wasn’t a game that seemed to be going to the Bulls, anyway.

They obviously had some playing issues as other than the physical stuff to start, the Heat kept that first half defense from Game 1 going. Their scheme is to trap the pick and roll, which makes it difficult for Robinson to see over and make a pass. The Bulls countered with more ball movement and some straight postups to spread the floor. But the Heat also was able to put James on Belinelli, who probably is the Bulls best pick and roll player, thus frustrating that action with Hinrich and Deng out. The Bulls also like to get their penetration as well off multiple pick and rolls, but it was one pass and shot or none at all as Robinson had four turnovers with his 11 points.

“I don’t know what it is, honesty,” said Robinson, one of several Bulls to struggle as Boozer had eight points and four rebounds. “They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it tonight. We just flat out sucked. Today, something was different. Not just with our play, but today was a weird day.”

The Heat focused in on Robinson to start, and he didn’t have it going this time missing all four of his first quarter shots. They’d obviously heard too much about Nate the Great. Still, the Bulls came out aggressively even with Miami’s game plan seemingly taken from the old Pat Riley New York manual of foul them every time and the refs can only call so many.

“Sometimes it is going to be a little physical, but it is the playoffs,” said Wade. “I think we came out with the right mindset, came out and played team basketball, but also got into it defensively early on. Losing Game 1 at home was tough and we had to go back and look ourselves in the mirror. These games are going to be tough. The Chicago Bulls are not going to make it easy on us. We are going to have to fight for every win and tonight we did a good job in the beginning of the game and setting the tone.”

And that tone would be? Yes, take a shot.

“We were able to save this one, but we are still in the hole,” noted Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “They got what they needed. They got one. It doesn’t matter about the score tonight. We need to move on now and get ready to go into the lion’s den on Friday. I don’t think it was physically out of hand. This is going to be a physical series. Nobody is trying to take it over the top. We have our game that we are trying to play. It’s tough, it’s physical but it’s clean. I think the emotions at the end had nothing to do with the correlation with the physicality.”

Miami eventually gets to this against the Bulls, whom they don’t much like mussing up their records. After being pummeled around in last regular season, Wade took a strong cheap shot at Richard Hamilton in the last regular season game, tossing him into the stands. Then when the Bulls broke that Heat 27-game winning streak in March, James complained about over aggressive Bulls play while he shot a flagrant elbow at Boozer.

James isn’t one who is going to back down, and even Wade was chastened a little as he admitted afterward his Game 1 diva antics, though he didn’t use that description about complaining to officials after every drive, was distracting. Likely coach Spoelstra told him about it, though Wade didn’t pull a public pout this time like in a previous playoffs.

“We felt that we did a little too much (complaining) last game,” Wade conceded about he and James. “Instead of worrying about the game we were worried about other things. Our focus tonight was to come in and focus on the game. We did that from start to finish. We did that last year. We put everything to the side. In Game 1 we were a little frustrated and that showed.”

Nate Robinson

The Bulls knew they’d have to withstand the Heat’s early surge after Game 1, and they were doing it well. James was driving the ball hard, as expected, though the Bulls fouls were beginning to pile up and that had an effect. Robinson got two and Butler, who made two first quarter threes, got an early one. James also came to the game wearing a t-shirt that read: “Up to me.” Now, who does that?

“I felt like after one foul I couldn’t be as aggressive,” said Butler, who played just over 31 minutes with his consecutive playoff minutes streak ending at 160. “I couldn’t be the aggressor and he took advantage. He was definitely coming at me. When you get a first one you start to back up a little bit and that’s just like the green light for him.”

While James was dynamic early, Wade and Bosh were ordinary and there even were some boos for Wade. It’s clear he’s hurt or not the player he was. He dunked a few, even a lob. But he doesn’t have that driving, spin and explosion move anymore, which makes him more a jump shooter. And he’s always been an ordinary one. Bosh later drove to the basket, but still settles outside too much. James gives them courage and cover. He seemed to understand with that big first quarter that included a late driving left handed dunk and then sealing Butler inside for a score as all six of his baskets were in the paint.

“We came out with intensity and they did as well,” said James. “I was just trying to make sure we kept our composure throughout everything that was going on and to understand that we were here to play a basketball game. We know it is going to be physical each and every minute. We’re not going to shy away from that. We have to understand that we’re here to try and win the game. They did what they wanted to do. They came in and stole home court from us. Now we have to go to Chicago and try to take it back.”

The Heat led 25-20 after one quarter, which wasn’t bad for the Bulls with Miami shooting 61.1 percent. The Heat continued their aggressive play, trapping in the backcourt as well as the pick and roll. It was taking Boozer out of the game as the guards were having trouble finding him. He’ll get some heat for a relatively unproductive series thus far, but he suffers when guards cannot deliver the ball, which is a problem without Hinrich.

You could see it boiling over again as Nazr Mohammed began to shout at James about a push in the back, though the Bulls seemed to be in good position playing the Pinkertons from the Butch Cassidy movie with Butch and Sundance continuing to ask who were those guys who wouldn’t give up the chase.

Miami was shooting nearly 60 percent, outrebounding the Bulls, and with Miami heading into a timeout with 8:35 left in the second quarter after a Gibson facial dunk and accompanying Noah fist pump, the Bulls were within 32-28 and seemed to have survived the early pressure. Miami bolted out again as the Bulls got sloppy with the ball. But then the Heat turned and the Bulls were there again, trailing 42-38 with 3:42 left in the half after Noah hit Boozer for a score as the Bulls had to go to big man to big man passing, Boozer was fouled and made a pair of free throws and Butler beat Wade for a three-point play.

The Heat has sized down to get James at power forward, and with Coles getting free after a James pull up three, the Bulls began to lose control of the game as Miami had that 13-3 run.

“The game started OK,” said Thibodeau. “We didn’t close out the (second) quarter like we would have liked and it snowballed from there.

“It was just playoff basketball,” said Thibodeau welcoming the contretemps. “You have to have more fight, more determination. They’re a great team. You have to keep coming for 48 minutes. You can’t relax. We can’t shy away from contact. We know what’s going on. There is an appropriate way to handle that. When the ball is in the air you have to fight. It comes down to will. Your will and determination when the ball is in the air. You are going to get hit. It’s NBA basketball.

“I thought the frustration level of maybe not getting calls on drives, now instead of sprinting back to
get set, we are complaining to the officials and they are laying it in,” noticed Thibodeau. “You can’t do that. If you have a point to make to the official, there is an appropriate time to do that and it’s during a dead ball. When the ball is live you have one responsibility, get back and get set. Help your team.”

It was more a call for help then, and no answer from the Bulls. It was quickly over after halftime except for the further clearing of the Bulls bench.

“They wanted to come out and be the more aggressive team,” said Butler. “I feel like they got to where they wanted to on the floor, scored in the paint well, which is our fault because we’re always talking about not giving up layups and that’s all we gave up tonight. I feel like once frustration set in everything went downhill. Our offense, our defense, us talking to the refs. We’re not supposed to let the refs dictate how we play basketball. We’re supposed to have the same style of game. But I feel like that’s what happened tonight. Once the refs started calling this call and that call, techs here, techs there, it went downhill.”

The hill to climb remains Miami’s after the Bulls got their split here. But the Heat is coming with their hiking boots to dig in. We’ll see if the Bulls can match them.

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