"So there's 7 or so minutes left in the game, so in total that'll put me at...ugh." (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Without Derrick Rose and the game not being a blowout, this Bulls loss to Miami still isn't enough to give the Heat an aura of invincibility. Like they showed in their previous two losses in Chicago, the Heat have their own problems: declining play from Wade and Bosh (the latter of which sat out himself in this one), size and depth issues, and inconsistency from anyone not in the big 3.
Though I think at this point LeBron counts as 1.5 of that 3, being simply incredible and the only thing still unwaveringly frighting in this rivalry. He battled some cramping (wait for jokes insinuating he has lady-parts...ok, done) in the 2nd half which depressed his overall line a bit, but he started out unbelievably hot with 15 points in the first quarter, and was impressively aggressive on his way to 27 points on 18 shots. He just seems to be settling less, and that's scary.
But LeBron's been great in all these matchups for Miami, win or lose. The difference in this game was some of the Heat role players actually contributing. In a completely opposite result from last week, Mario Chalmers ate up CJ Watson. Chalmers got the first step consistently, starting out hitting his first 3 shots and finishing with 16 points. It took him 16 shots to get there, but any production from him is gravy for Miami, and Watson's frustrations got him out of the 2nd half fairly early and he didn't even play in the 4th quarter.
A similar matchup going differently than last week was the muzzling of Kyle Korver, who was 0-2 in 16 minutes of action. Shane Battier had only a single 3-pointer to his name himself, but he and the Heat did a fantastic job limiting Korver's actions off of screens. The Bulls favorite scripted options on offense involve Korver or Rip Hamilton in that fashion, but the difference with using it against the Heat instead of the clinic the Bulls were able to run against Charlotte the night before is apparent. Miami does a much better job closing space and rotating behind their perimeter defenders, to where the shots are more contested, and the dishes still leave defenders to beat. It was still good to see Rip Hamilton serve as at least a plausible foil to Wade (even drawing what could've been an eject-able shoving foul on Wade), but the offensive production wasn't there, only 6 points in 27 minutes himself.
Along with not being able to win key matchups like these, the Bulls usual rebounding dominance wasn't in effect tonight, grabbing only a paltry 16% of offensive rebounds. They were quite good on the defensive end (Miami was barely better at 21%) but that's a factor the Bulls need to dominate.
So with all that said, the Bulls were still relatively close throughout the game until the Heat pulled away late. How was even that moral victory possible? To keep pace in the first half, Deng and Boozer started out hot, and John Lucas III had an 8-point spurt in the 2nd quarter. Joakim Noah had the best night overall with his 15 points and 10 rebounds. But this game never really felt that close even before the score proved it wasn't. The Bulls went for too long of stretches without making baskets (8:30 in a time spanning the 2nd and 3rd quarters), and even the ones they were able to get didn't come easy. They got to the line at a decent clip, but little else was in the form of sustainable reliable offense, and any extended period of John Lucas dominating the ball rarely feels like 'real' offense regardless of the result. Lucas did show again he can be a possible difference-maker for spurts in the playoffs. But the fact that they needed him in the first place also showed the hole they were in offensively. The Bulls only scored 32 points in the second half.
Another thing of note was the chippiness and physical play escalating between the two teams. Lucas ran into a LeBron screen reminiscent of the one that was layed into CJ Watson last week, and Lucas's objection to it eventually forced a double-technical. I mentioned the outright shove from Wade on Hamilton, and what made that seem worse that earlier in the game James Jones was ejected for his blatant push (though his was more towards the head) on Noah.
Every game these two teams have played this season have seen injuries on either side, not really providing an adequate test case for what we can expect if they indeed rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals. We've seen strengths and weaknesses exhibited by both, and the difference may simply be which team can figure out their health and then establishing consistency by that time. At the very least we know they don't like eachother, another reason to very much hope to see that rematch in the playoffs. The Bulls still have a week to make sure that game one of that series is at home.