The Bulls entered Friday night's game against the Heat in a bit of a slump on the boards. I hoped playing the rebounding challenged Heat would be the remedy for some of those woes, and boy were they ever. The Bulls absolutely killed the Heat on the glass in an improbable 96-89 victory on the road, made even more improbable by the fact that the Bulls shot just 5-of-23 in the fourth quarter and LeBron James made a living at the line down the stretch.
The Bulls established their dominance in the paint almost from the get-go. They racked up 10 offensive rebounds (50 percent ORR) and 12 second chance points in the first half, with Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson grabbing three of those rebounds apiece. The Bulls held a 24-12 overall rebounding advantage in the half and outscored the Heat 32-20 in the paint.
The dominance continued in the second half, and for the game, the Bulls won the rebounding battle 48-28. They grabbed 43.2 percent of their misses and scored 20 second chance points to just seven for the Heat. The recipe to beating the Heat the past few seasons has been to beat them up down low, and that's exactly what the Bulls did tonight.
After leading 49-48 at halftime, the Bulls took control of the game in a strong third quarter that saw them shoot a scorching 10-of-16 from the field and 3-of-3 from three-point land. The scoring was balanced and we saw a confident Kirk Hinrich running the offense very well. Hinrich scored five points and handed out four assists in the quarter, and it was really nice to see that type of confidence from Kirk (although his play in the fourth quarter left a lot to be desired).
The Bulls' defense tightened up in that third quarter as well after giving up 54.3 percent shooting in the first half. The Heat shot just 6-of-18 from the field, and more importantly, only 1-of-7 from three-point land. Miami, one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, struggled all night long from long range (5-of-20), which seems to happen regularly against the Bulls' defense. Shane Battier missed a multitude of wide open looks, but the Bulls generally did an excellent job closing out on the Heat shooters. Ray Allen was an absolute non-factor, scoring just five points and hitting one three.
LeBron James threatened to take the game over by himself early in the fourth quarter, but Nate Robinson helped stem the tide with seven points in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. Nate even made some nice defensive plays in the fourth, which have been few and far between lately.
After Robinson left the game, the Bulls' offense simply dried up, which is pretty par for the course these days when the going gets tough in the fourth quarter. The Heat finally picked up their intensity, and the Bulls just couldn't get any good looks. Much of this was due to LeBron, who was all over the place on the defensive end. Jimmy Butler had a few really ill-advised attempts, although he did make up for it with some stellar defense on the other end on Dwyane Wade.
A few buckets by Boozer and Marco Belinelli late appeared to ice the game, but Allen's lone three followed by a Hinrich brain fart almost got the Heat back in it. However, a huge deflection by Boozer led to a steal, and his bucket on the other end off, you guessed it, an offensive rebound by Butler sealed the win.
Boozer was pretty damn marvelous the entire game, which marked his second straight brilliant performance after his 31-point effort in Orlando. Carlos finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds on 12-of-17 shooting, and was instrumental in getting the Bull going early when Richard Hamilton turnovers threatened to derail matters.
At this point, I really can't be surprised at what this Bulls team does. They look like shit against one of the worst teams in the league one night, and then come out and beat up teams like the Heat and Knicks the next. When you try hard nearly every single game, wins like this happen against teams with far greater talent. It's why the Bulls have been so great in the regular season the past few seasons.
Does this win mean anything in the big picture? Are these guys good enough to beat the Heat in the playoffs with a healthy Derrick Rose? Almost definitely not. But I'm not going to lie and say these wins don't feel damn good.