Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicago Bulls flex their muscle in Game 1

CHICAGO — By now, you probably have prepared yourself for the strong possibility that this playoff series will not always be an artistic triumph, despite Eric Spoelstra’s prediction (or was it his delusion?) that “at some point a basketball game will break out.”

Four quarters in, and we’re still waiting for that to happen for his Miami team. No doubt, there were long and competitive stretches Sunday night in which the Heat looked comfortable with the grunt game that the Chicago Bulls play so well. But that was a mirage.

Whether they are equipped to play this kind of game remains to be seen, but they had better learn quickly that this series will be decided by the coach who can get his team to lock in longer defensively. In this particular instance, that team was Chicago, and for 48 minutes it was a masterpiece of the art.

That was the lesson from Game 1, a 103-82 Chicago blowout, and it was a sight to behold. The Bulls were more precise, more intense, more dedicated to making certain that every last stop was brought to its conclusion, with their four main bigs snatching more rebounds than the entire Miami team.

It didn’t hurt, either, that Derrick Rose played like the MVP and that honorary Jersey guy Luol Deng — a Blair Academy product — outplayed LeBron James by a substantial margin.

Or that every last guy off Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s bench was a game-changer.
Or that there was a 45-33 blowout on the glass, and a 31-8 landslide in second-chance points.

Etc., etc.

Some coaches would call it beautiful, and that’s their right. But when you lose, you think otherwise, and even Chris Bosh had to admit, “We took a beating tonight.”

So while it doesn’t change our opinion that the Heaters are the better group here, let’s just say that the Bulls now have their full attention.

This is worth noting because after it was over, one of the first things out of Thibodeau’s mouth was, “There are things we have to clean up defensively.” Nothing is left to chance with this guy, and every mistake elicits coaching castigation.

Think of it this way: Chicago scored its first three times out of the gate in the second half, and even though Bosh had just blown by Joakim Noah for a lefty score, the Bulls had their largest lead (55-50) of the game.

But Dwyane Wade then found a seam for a score, and James set up a Bosh jam off a side screen/roll that was too quick for the help (Boozer) to stop this from happening.

They hadn’t even played three minutes in the second half, but what did Thibodeau do? He called timeout, probably to reinforce the no-layup rule, as the Bulls had now yielded three straight layups.

“We were spread out,” he explained later. “As ball goes away, we have to handle the weak side better. And our ball pressure wasn’t where we wanted it to be.”

What happened from there was extraordinary. The Heat took their final lead at 58-57 on James’ 20-foot turnaround fadeaway with Deng in his mug, but that’s where Thibodeau’s defense shut Miami’s water off.



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