Previous ArticlesBulls could be in a Snell of a predicament in Miami
Bulls succumb to the Heat
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 23
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The Bulls can say again it was just one bad quarter, like it was when they were blown out opening night in Miami. It was that way again Sunday as the Bulls played even with the Heat other than a third quarter domination that resulted in a 93-79 Miami win.
“When we play the Miami Heat our intensity has to be high the whole time,” said Joakim Noah, who, nevertheless, had a big game with 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. “To me, that is what is disappointing. Those guys ended our seasons a lot. You got to hate playing these guys. Every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn’t good the whole time and that is what is disappointing.”
So, yes, the Bulls pointed to a lack of their usual all out frenzy, some poor shooting, which can happen anytime, though which led to some uncertainty on defense, and a lack of quick ball movement and decisive play.
But even without LeBron James, who sat out with a broken nose — Jimmy Butler was out for the Bulls with a rib injury — the Heat had a lot to do with the Bulls being unable to play as openly and freely and as confidently as they would like to and have done lately.
The Bulls fell to 29-26, and Miami, 40-14, is the two-time defending champion. And even trailing the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference, Miami still is most everyone’s favorite to win a third straight NBA title.
They are a pretty darned good team.
“That team is a good team,” said Taj Gibson, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. “They’ve got players other than LeBron. They’ve got Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Those players are All-Stars, too. Their bench is good.”
Bosh led Miami with 28 points, making four of nine threes, and 10 rebounds. Wade, looking quick and athletic, added 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
But it’s more than what their two other best players can do.
The Bulls have been on a terrific run of late, though their five-game winning streak ended. They’ve been the little team that could (surprise) once again without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.
(As an aside, Rose out dressed James Sunday with a sharp blue suit with matching checked shirt and tie with an understated white pocket handkerchief. Yes, the Bulls looked better on the sidelines, at least.)
But sometimes you come up against a team that’s simply better, a team that takes away the best things you do, plays intelligently like you do, plays as hard and has more talent. It’s a tough combination. I could see the Bulls getting things together and things going right and defeating even Indiana in a series. I’m not sure they could do it against Miami.
The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 51-41, as they must do to have a chance against Miami. And Miami started Greg Oden in his first start in more than four years, but he wasn’t effective or dexterous.
But the Heat is a smart team even without James, a team that takes away the best things you do and takes advantage of the things you cannot do well.
They ran pick and roll constantly against Carlos Boozer, who doesn’t come out aggressively to challenge and get back.
Their trap on the pick and roll, which is the staple of their defense, effectively took out D.J. Augustin, who was zero for 10 shooting and had two points in 36 minutes. It’s not like as Augustin goes so goes the Bulls. But Augustin has been such a help because he’s one of the few Bulls players who can create a shot off the dribble. The Heat took that away not only with the trap on the pick and roll, which is Augustin’s best play to get off shots, but with their taller guards being aggressive and not giving Augustin any passing room. His smaller size has been his main deficiency, and the Heat take advantage like no one else.
It was one of the reasons the Bulls had a shocking seven 24-second violations that had the national ABC broadcast team trying to find out if it was a record. Fortunately for the Bulls, it’s not kept.
Coming off a career-high 20 points against Denver, the Heat made Tony Snell go back to looking like a rookie. It’s not an embarrassment, but Snell starting for Butler was two for 10 for six points. Wade constantly beat him off the dribble to the point Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had to switch Kirk Hinrich onto Wade to start the second half after Wade had 11 second quarter points. Snell, of course, was much too slow to deal with Chalmers, who had 12 points and nine assists in having more open passing lanes off the dribble. Seemingly flummoxed, Snell then began to back off driving the ball. Assuming he could have.
Though Noah questioned the team’s usual intensity, the Bulls did seem to compete as hard as they normally would. It’s just that Miami denied them, closed fast on perimeter shooters, trapped and recovered back inside.
Plus, the Heat is facile on offense, moving the ball from shooter to shooter to keep getting one better shot. There’s only so much rotation even an active team like the Bulls can do. It’s not like Miami is unbeatable as the Bulls have had success against them in the regular season and defeated them in Chicago in December. But there seemed an extra bit of motivation with James out. And it helped that Wade played like the Wade we remember rather than the forgettable Wade of various occasions the last year.
The Bulls appeared to be playing a mirror reflection of themselves, but with a pair of offensive All-Stars in Wade and Bosh in Miami. You need everything to go well when that happens, and the Bulls just weren’t that good Sunday.
“We were missing a pretty big man,” said Wade. “There is nothing that we can do to replace the best player in the world. But when the game starts, you forget about it. We just had to go out there and play team basketball on both sides of the floor. I thought we did a good job of grinding enough to pull away. That team is an unbelievable rebounding team. It’s hard to outrebound them, but we were able to be disruptive in other areas I tried to get down there and help (rebounding) as much as possible. When you’re missing LeBron you try to do other things.”
They proved just too much on this day for the Bulls, who lost it in a 16-2 Miami run to close the third quarter. The Heat opened the fourth quarter with a Michael Beasley three to make it 68-52. And though the Bulls didn’t submit — you knew they wouldn’t — and got within 75-64 with seven minutes remaining, the Heat were too relentless even as Gibson had 10 fourth quarter points.
“They take away your strong suit, pack the paint, especially in post,” said Gibson in a lament the Bulls often hear from others. “Their guards are real smart when it comes to getting (hands) in there. They’re real crafty.”
It didn’t look so much so to start as the Bulls took a 24-20 first quarter lead with balanced scoring, Noah and Carlos Boozer with impressive interior passing and Snell and Mike Dunleavy with late threes to offset Bosh scoring 10 points on perimeter jumpers.
“I thought that in the first half the defense was good,” said Thibodeau. “The rebounding was good. The ball movement was good. Then I thought that we missed some open threes. That really hurt us.”
The Bulls had been carrying those first quarter leads into wins lately. But the loss dropped them to 24-6 when leading following the first quarter.
And then the roof began to fall in as the Bulls were scoreless the first six minutes of the second quarter with several turnovers. Every game plan against Miami counsels no turnovers. But the Bulls would commit 19 overall for 22 Miami points. In contrast, Miami had eight turnovers for just three Bulls points. The Heat, though, wasn’t much better to open the second as neither team scored for four minutes and fans almost turned to watching golf, which was having more action. But Wade got going against Snell, who seemed a bit overwhelmed against the star guard.
When asked about Snell, Thibodeau said, “He can do better.”
He declined to elaborate.
Without Butler, who remains day-to-day, the Bulls basically went with a seven-player rotation with Nazr Mohammed getting limited time as Miami mostly plays small. Oden started but played just under 13 minutes.
Miami scored nine straight, seven by Wade, to go ahead 29-24, though the Bulls were still matching them and into the moment as Noah gave himself an and-1 signal with a finish on an offensive rebound and foul. That made it 36-33 Bulls. Wade would close the half with a driving move that looked like Wade six years ago even as it just tied the game at 40. This wasn’t Thunder/Clippers, which went just before on ABC with about as many points in the first six minutes.
But there were worrisome signs for the Bulls as the offense stalled and they began to get stuck with the ball, leading to the shot clock violations. Or more of them. The Bulls often shoot late in the clock as their offense is slow in order to better protect the transition defense. But Miami’s traps were cutting down the ball movement and pick and roll, where the Bulls get much of their offense.
“Taj scored effectively,” said Thibodeau. “Jo scored effectively. I thought that Kirk did. Mike was good earlier in the game. We have enough guys that can score. There’s other things that you can do (when you are not scoring). There were several (shot clock violations) in which it was good ball movement. Then the ball was held. You’ve got to know what the clock is. We have some guys that aren’t experienced. They’re holding on to it; you’ve got to drive the ball and get the ball up on the rim.”
The Bulls often do with one or two seconds on the clock. Miami’s defense is better than most, so the Bulls ended up stuck seven times too many.
The Bulls still were hanging in midway through the third, leading 50-49 with 5:19 left in their kind of deliberate, defensive game they can win with against Miami. But with a bigger lineup and Bosh moving outside, the Bulls were late to get to him and Miami’s defense smothered the Bulls those last five minutes of the third, thwarting the pick and roll, identifying the weak spots in the Bulls defense and exploiting them and the Bulls without anyone able to make a play.
The Heat took a 65-52 lead after three. And even with Noah getting a pair of blocks on the same possession early in the fourth, Miami remained intense and even then Wade got the third rebound and was fouled. The Heat would match the Bulls in offensive rebounds, and the Bulls cannot beat Miami if the Heat are as effective on the boards.
“I’m frustrated about the game,” Noah said. “I feel like we could have definitely played a lot better. When we play the Miami Heat our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 regardless of shots going in or not. Of course you want to win the game. But the way we’re going to win is our edge; our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game. We definitely have to learn from this. Mentally, our approach wasn’t where it needed to be tonight. We let frustration get to us. You have to move on. Your mentality has to be next play throughout the game because it keeps going and you can’t let one mistake lead to other mistakes especially against a team that talented. Disappointed, disappointed.”