Bulls apply heat in second half for win in Miami


Apr 10

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Maybe it was Nazr Mohammed’s halftime speech, a stem winder after the Bulls trailed Miami 51-32 and shot three of 24 in the second quarter. “Nazr, he really chewed us out,” said Taj Gibson, who had all three second quarter scores. Maybe it was Derrick Rose in his second game back from knee surgery with a dozen points and drawing the defense with drives. “I think I attacked the basket a little bit more. I pushed myself to attack the rim,” said Rose.

Maybe it was, well, this is a Bulls team that is supposed to be a serious playoff contender this season and you just are not supposed to head into the playoffs losing back to back to sub-.500 teams, and maybe they began to understand.

“I just think we had enough,” said Mike Dunleavy, whose 10 third quarter points Thursday helped carry the Bulls to the most improbable of victories, 89-78 over the Miami Heat. “Adrian Griffin, our assistant coach, I was sitting there on the bench waiting for the second half to start and he asked me, ‘What do you think is wrong with your guys? Tired?’ I just said, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’ After that, I felt like we were going to make it happen; dug in, got stops, rebounded and put the ball in the basket. Sounds easy but that’s what we did. Tonight we just said enough is enough. And just played our best basketball of the season in the third quarter.”

The confusing victory in which the Bulls outscored Miami 33-8 in the third quarter and held a double digit lead much of the fourth quarter was perhaps as good a picture as any of this Bulls team. They went from hardly ever playing worse to hardly ever playing better in this box of chocolates season in which you never know what you are going to get.

The victory moved the Bulls to 47-32 and back into third place in the Eastern Conference while Miami fell to 35-44 and on the verge of missing the playoffs. The Bulls got 16 points and 15 rebounds in a 51st double/double from Pau Gasol, 14 points and 12 rebounds from Gibson, 14 points from Aaron Brooks and a dozen each from Rose and Dunleavy in a game in which the Bulls shot 12 percent in the second quarter and then Miami shot 13 percent in the third quarter.

Even TNT broadcaster Marv Albert was shaking his head as he left the arena, changing his signature call to, “Yes?”

“Just the ups and downs continue,” said Joakim Noah in a much relieved Bulls post game locker room scene. “I think definitely a very important win for us. Nazr gave us a great halftime speech about playing together and playing for the right reasons, staying together, not getting down on ourselves. We came out with the right mindset that [third] quarter, took it possession by possession, and a lot of guys stepped up. It was embarrassing. Getting outcompeted. Yeah, no question we still have to get better. But overall, the positive was that was a very good second half of basketball that we played. Our thing for years was our intensity and our defense, and it wasn’t there in the first half and it was there in the second half.’’

When it will be there next, well stay tuned.

Turnarounds like that in the NBA are unusual, though the Bulls a few years back coughed up a 35-point lead which eventually sealed Vinny Del Negro’s fate as coach. Consider this ping pong match—though you felt more like beer pong as everything seemed fuzzy and out of focus—of the Heat outscoring the Bulls 29-6 the last nine minutes of the first half and then blowing the second largest halftime lead in Heat franchise history. Miami would score a season low 27 second half points as the Bulls went on to win twice in Miami for the first time in 11 years.

The Bulls’ 15-2 run to open the third quarter had Miami missing its first 12 field goal attempts and 10 minutes into the second half the Bulls were leading a game it looked like they’d given up on and didn’t much care to play.

But this is perhaps the blessing and curse of this Bulls team. Confidence is good; they seem to have unjustified overconfidence based on what they see around them: Multiple All-Stars, Rose returning and presenting the possibilities as he flashed to the rim, more shooting than in years with Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic with two clutch fourth quarter threes after he hadn’t made a shot all game and the unpredictable and creative Brooks, whose shots could become a magic act.

“We’re one of those teams we get lackadaisical sometimes,” admitted Gibson, who probably has given the most consistent effort the last two games. “We have so many weapons. Look at Niko, Tony (Snell). We think we’ll come back so easily. We like to play to our competition and it hurts us a lot and we lose track of what we need to do and then it’s too late.

“We are trying to get our games in order,” Gibson added. “Like Thibs has been saying, ‘Try to put everything into it. Because you never know how many times you are going to get a crack at it.’ We have to seize the moment.”

Carpe diem! These guys?

That’s what’s made this Bulls season and this Bulls team so alluring.

They look like they could; and then they look like they never will. And when you are certain it’s time to give up, here they come again.

It’s not a good Miami team, and there were plenty of flaws.

Once again, the Bulls were outscored on second chance points, though they did play well enough after halftime to have a 51-46 rebounding advantage. But they were again outscored in the paint, something that had been a constant in their game, this time 42-32. They had just 17 assists and fired away six of 23 on threes. And the Heat, led by Hassan Whiteside with 19 points and 16 rebounds and Michael Beasley with all 13 of his points in the second quarter, shot 51 percent in the first half.

“Right now it’s a little choppy and the challenge for us is to make it smooth real fast,” noted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of three regular season games left. “I thought we missed some good shots in the second quarter and we just jogged back. We can’t do that; we’re not overly athletic. If we are not sprinting back we are going to have a problem. There were several sequences where the initial play was defended well and then we gave them two or three cracks at it. They made us pay; we can’t do that. The rebounding has to be strong. That’s putting your body on somebody, sprinting back. That’s just your will, sprint back, don’t jog back, don’t look at the officials.”

But then the positives emerged.

Snell starting for Jimmy Butler, out with a minor calf problem, did an excellent job defending Dwyane Wade, who was four of 20 for nine points. Snell never went for any of Wade’s siren call pump fakes, staying down and Snell’s long arms disrupting Wade. Mirotic again was big in the fourth with six of his nine points while in that third quarter run Dunleavy and Brooks were not only making shots but showing the hustle and defense that unsettled Miami.

It was a big second half start by the regulars, though one early fourth quarter play was instructive. A flummoxed and harassed Wade threw the ball into the backcourt for a turnover. But instead of letting it go, Brooks chased it down and pulled up for a three against a surprised and not ready Heat. The three gave the Bulls a 69-59 lead with about a minute gone in the fourth quarter. And there would be no let down this time like in Orlando with attention to defense and the inspiration of teammates.

“We started helping each other,” said Brooks. “When guys were driving to the hole they were getting right to the rim. We started holding each other accountable in the second half and started making some shots, finally. We weren’t playing; we weren’t getting back on defense. You can live with missing shots, but the little things, helping each other on pick and rolls, getting back, playing each other’s tendencies; we weren’t doing that. That first half we didn’t.

“The intensity picked up,” agreed Brooks. “You’ve got to get ready for the playoffs. That’s what we did, picked up the intensity. The little stuff was killing us. Lack of energy and focus; second half we paid attention to details.

“I almost let it go,” Brooks said of that backcourt play. “I looked at it for a second, but the second half the intensity was set by the starters. The first half I’d probably have let that one go.”

It is a community effort, perhaps more so for this team.

Yes, there are stars, but nothing of the transcendent nature with Rose returning from surgery and likely to be on playing time limitations into the playoffs.

Thibodeau has basically played Rose to his current 20-minute limit, about to midway in the third quarter and Rose has not played again. Thibodeau indicated it would remain that way for now. Rose said he’d like to play in the fourth quarter, but he’s adhering to the plan designed for him and has to do what he is told.

“I want to increase it,” Rose said of the playing time. “If you think about the playoffs, you want to increase my minutes just so that I can get used to playing the type of minutes. But, like I said, it’s out of my hands. I would love to play them. But if not, I’m going to wait and take my time.”

There are one dimensional players, Noah with defense, Gasol with offense. There are role players like Dunleavy and Mirotic for their shooting, Snell for his defense, Butler for his versatility. Like Thibodeau often says, they do need everybody. The second half in a 57-27 domination showed what they can be when everybody does, as Thibodeau likes to say, his job.

It really was just the second quarter letdown as the Bulls led 20-18 after one despite 37 percent shooting. Rose in his second game shot better and went to the basket more, tiring late which was reflected in his shooting percentage after a three of six start.

“I was more calm, more patient,” Rose said about his first back to back since mid-February. “I missed a lot of shots I normally hit, but that comes with just playing. If anything, I feel like I’m pushing myself. So that’s the only thing that I’m concerned about. I didn’t know what to expect coming into tonight’s game. I knew before the game I wasn’t sore. I was feeling great. And I still feel the same way. So my preparation for the game, I think, is getting a lot better. I’ve just got to continue to do it.”

The Bulls didn’t do much of anything in their poorest stretch of the season in that second quarter, everyone but Gibson shooting zero for 17. But it was the seemingly studied indifference, almost a sense of inevitable defeat and subsequent acceptance. Heat players moved the ball with alacrity as Bulls defenders waved at them as if saying goodbye to their season. You lose like that in Orlando and then like it seemed in Miami and it’s tough to make a case to anyone you are a playoff threat. Perhaps fittingly just after the halftime buzzer, Dunleavy tossed up a 55 footer that went in. A sign it was too late for this Bulls team?

“Our veteran leaders like Nazr,” said Gibson. “Guys came out, started the (second) half the right way. The help defense was better, everyone was talking; Pau was big time talking. Everybody was in the paint. Guys were contesting and we weren’t giving up any easy layups and it showed.”

And the shots went, Snell with a three after a fast break dunk, Rose with back to back strong drives before he left for the game after the 15-2 run, Dunleavy and Brooks banging in big shots and the Heat wilted.

“Our problem has been (being) up and down all year,” said Dunleavy. “We just can’t get it going. We can’t keep it rolling. Hopefully, tonight changes things a little. And we can finish these three games out well and into the playoffs. But our whole issue all year has been to get some momentum from game to game.”

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