"Yaaaaaaaay!!!" (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Wow. I guess this should start at the end, right? With the lineup the Bulls had on the floor while the Heat seemingly was closing the game out on a furious run (where they held the Bulls to 1 point in 2:30), I had a feeling it was going to take something crazy for the Bulls to pull it out. And though LeBron James hit a huge corner-3 to put them up two, he then missed the first of a pair of free-throws that would've likely sealed it. And then CJ Watson made an incredible move to get enough separation and launch a game-tying 3.
At least I think that's what happened, I pretty much blacked out. Watson and his fellow bench mob went on to completely dominate overtime, a 12-2 run also featuring contributions from Taj, Korver, and Omer Asik. Even if the Heat were merely initially stunned by what hit them, they certainly didn't recover in the least, and in the process likely permanently lost the #1 seed in the conference to the Bulls.
It seemed like it was going to be a completely different story when the Bulls looked outclassed at a point in the 3rd quarter. Carlos Boozer was the only Bulls starter who played well up until that time, with a huge 1st half (finishing with 19 and 11). Derrick Rose, back after missing Tuesday's game with a sprained ankle, looked like a shell of his usual self to the point where he was actively hurting the team when he played. Rose was front-rimming jumpers and telegraphing his limited drives to the rim, eventually resigning himself to a deferential role. The Heat had LeBron on Rose early when they usually wait for crunch time, but in this case it seemed superfluous.
Rose was subbed out (Thibs would later say Rose only returned for a stint to provide rest for Watson), and 4 baskets from Deng and Rip brought them back. Two of those were 3s, a huge edge all game. Bulls were 11-22 overall from the arc, and it seemed to always be timely.
The fact that the Heat couldn't close out a poor-playing Bulls team in that 2nd half is a newer story about them than it is about the Bulls. Or maybe it's just that I'm more familiar with how the Bulls operate, to the point of taking it for granted. Like Thibs always says, they 'have more than enough to win', whether it's an injured Derrick Rose, or Rip Hamilton still on the Bogans-plan, or Joakim Noah with his 2nd no-show in 3 games. The Bulls are shockingly deep, and resilient throughout.
And similarly, maybe it's a lack of consistent exposure to Miami that has me slow to learn, but they're not just sandbagging, they have major issues. They have the incomparable LeBron James, but surprisingly his MVP candidacy can now be seen as a factor of his awful teammates, whereas when he initially joined a 'super-team' that was before supposedly disqualifying him from individual glory. Chris Bosh played decently and still can give Boozer fits with his length, but what was usually a clear advantage for the Heat was for once a slight edge to Chicago. And while Dwayne Wade hit some circus shots among his 5-straight-FG run in the 4th quarter, overall he simply did not look the same. Finishing with only 2 free throw attempts (though countless complaints for more) , whether he's still nursing injury or tired, it's possible neither is going to get that much better soon.
And while most of the focus is on whenever or however LeBron fails, the real danger for Miami is if Wade's no longer superhuman alongside him. Because the rest of that team looks terrible. Nobody outside of James/Wade/Bosh scored in the 4th or overtime, and the Bulls had a staggering 47-7 edge in bench points. And what's worse for them than not getting production from their role players is that they seemingly still don't know who to play in the first place. Udonis Haslem was a late start but then had to leave the game with a stomach virus at halftime. They were forced to go PG-less often because Mario Chalmers was a complete trainwreck (in the mentioned 3rd quarter run by the Bulls he had back-to-back offensive fouls). Ronny Turiaf was serviceable on the boards but he favored his injured hand, and it was clear Asik didn't have to bother guarding him in overtime. Shane Battier attempted only 2 shots in 31 minutes, and in nearly as much time Mike Miller managed to miss 8.
'The rest' of the Heat likely aren't this bad, but it's a major concern for them. As is Wade's declining play, and LeBron possibly being overworked (and, yes, he was playing hot-potato in overtime).
This isn't the playoff yet, both teams' playoff rotations will look quite different than what we see tonight, and the Bulls have their own problems. Their playoff backcourt still hasn't even played together enough to start to comfortable doing so. But there are facets of the game that we've seen the Bulls beat these guys in before that held true again tonight, like controlling the rebounding battle, and using their depth to take advantage of the minutes when James sits on the bench. But while the Rose/Rip backcourt wasn't the answer we were hoping it would be when they formed this offseason, the Bulls proved they have a backup plan (and a backup to that) when the best laid plans aren't working. The Heat look like they can't even get their initial blueprint figured out. We'll be seeing them again, so let's keep rooting that they don't.