(oh, what a title)
I get what what Chris Sheridan is trying to say, but if I were a Heat fan it wouldn't make me feel better about game 1:
"All in all, the Heat didn't have a whole lot to feel all that unhappy about after they were outplayed and out-executed for a vast majority of the game."
Um, that should make them unhappy, you'd think.
It wasn't a perfect game by the Bulls but I was extremely pleased with how they attacked offensively. Getting the ball early to Deng and exploiting the mismatch of having him guarded by Wade got them off to a good start, which may not have been that important but certainly made me feel better. Wade's not even a good defender when he's healthy, and with the bum shoulder he can't roam for steals as recklessly as he usually does. Deng was able to post him up some (considering his size advantage though, the lack of post play means that part of his game isn't ready for prime time) but also was able to lose Wade when cutting away from the ball, and as the league now knows thanks to Wade himself, Deng is one of the best finishers in the game.
Ben Gordon was also attacking the rim and finished the game with 11 free throw attempts. The Heat certainly geared their defense at Gordon, even trapping him beyond the 3-point line, and while Gordon wasn't perfect in those situations he did finish with a career-high 11 assists. The fact that he attacked the rim allowed himself to have a good game while not hitting a single 3-pointer. It used to be nearly impossible for him to be effective when his shot wasn't falling, but Saturday's effort was nearly Wade-esque in the versatility.
And this is why the Bulls got Ben Wallace. I was surprised that Wallace was guarding O'Neal single-handedly (I thought they'd use PJ and have Wallace help) but the trust paid off. Whether Wallace didn't deserve some of those calls (I forgot to tape the game (unforgivable)) or not doesn't matter, he received those calls because he's Ben freaking Wallace. 'Star' treatment is unfortunate, but at least with Wallace the Bulls now have one of their own (and we can rehash that debate over what makes a star, an all-star, a superstar, or a superduperstar, but first let me put a pistol in my mouth) who can match up with O'Neal in terms of respect from the officials. Wallace didn't even play particularly well (especially offensively, the ball movement derailed even quicker than usual when he had the ball) but at least he was there. When he's playing that means Malik Allen and Mike Sweetney aren't, and Wallace having an average game is better than going deep in the bench.
While I think Skiles stuck with Noc a bit too long (hey, it wound up working out, but I still would rather see more of this in game two), he deserves credit for realizing how well Thabo defended Wade and made sure he (and not Duhon) was the first guard off the bench after Hinrich got in foul trouble yet again (thankfully Griffin is still hurt, heh). This is stating the obvious, but Thabo was able to use his long arms and poke at Wade's dribble, disrupting him in a way that Duhon can't. As an added bonus he even hit some shots. But unlike people who are watching the Bulls for the first time, one bad game isn't reason to give up on Kirk. The Bulls turned out not needing him on Saturday but they will. I don't get whey it's so easy to throw a major contributor like Kirk under the bus but the bad players get a free pass. That could just be high expectations, I suppose, but Kirk isn't the problem, and giving Thabo minutes from a worse player (like Duhon) will help the team with no needed effect on Hinrich's place in the rotation. The beauty of a series opponent is (hopefully) Skiles sees no reason to change: Duhon should no longer get assigned to Wade the rest of the way.
Along with Kirk's struggles, the Bulls have other reasons to laugh at the idea that they can't play this well again. They shot 3-17 from three, and I don't remember them being especially hard looks either. For reference, Antoine Walker himself went 4-7 from distance. He was able to be the third option for Miami, but that was likely by design as Walker is awful and anything that gets him more shots should be encouraged. And I thought in terms of shot making that both O'Neal and Wade made a lot of difficult shots. Even single-covered, O'Neal was forced to work, and Wade was pretty much kept away from the rim, both by injury and the Bulls defense.
The finish was uncomfortably close. But, hey, in a season where the Bulls close-game execution has been questioned, they managed to hold on. Those are the types of finishes where the Heat should have the advantage, trading possessions with Wade (granted, Shaq had fouled out by then) leading the free-throw parade. But he was held in check, and the fact that it was a close loss should be more discouraging than encouraging for the Heat. They got the type of game they wanted at the end, and lost. If the Bulls continue to play this well there may not be many more close games at all.