At some point, I'm going to stop doubting the ability of an undermanned Bulls to take it to the Heat. With the Bulls slumping of late without Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Heat would come into the United Center and deliver a severe beating. Yes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Andersen were sidelined, but Miami was coming off a loss and I expected a bounce back performance from them.
A minute into the game, it looked like that was going to be the case, with LeBron James going Beast Mode on consecutive possessions and scoring the first four points of the contest. But the rest of the game was pretty much all Bulls, and they cruised to a 107-87 victory. The Bulls led by as many as 25 points in the second half and never let that get below 12 the rest of the way.
After LeBron's brief show at the outset, the Bulls morphed into a #ThibsBall juggernaut that outplayed the Heat in essentially every facet of the game. If there's one stat that really encompassed the Bulls' dominance, it's the fact that Joakim Noah had more rebounds by himself (10) than the Heat did as a team (nine) in the entire first half.
The Bulls' size has often been one of their main advantages against the Heat, and it was especially evident tonight. The revitalization of Noah was huge, and he finally looked like the guy who made his first All-Star Game last season, finishing with 17 points and 15 rebounds. It was the best Noah has looked all season, and when he's playing with that level of effectiveness, the Bulls are a much different team than we've seen of late, especially defensively.
The other two primary Bulls bigs were also excellent. Carlos Boozer, who has been horrendous the last three games, led the Bulls with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting after getting off to a slow start. Boozer was aggressive all night, and he was the beneficiary of solid ball movement on numerous occasions, getting free for easy layups time and time again.
Taj Gibson continued his strong play, scoring 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and also grabbing six rebounds in just 24 minutes. Gibson abused Michael Beasley in the low post, and it was Taj who helped halt the Heat's mini-run in the fourth quarter when they got to within 12. Gibson knocked down a jumper, blocked a shot on the other end and shortly thereafter, a Luol Deng three proved to be the dagger. Deng, by the way, scored 20 points for the sixth straight game (first time in his career) and did a nice job defensively on LeBron.
For the game, the Bulls outrebounded the Heat 49-27 and had 24 second chance points to just six for Miami. The Bulls scored 44 points in the paint to 34 for the Heat, and the margin was only that close thanks to Miami narrowing the gap in the fourth quarter when the game was pretty much out of hand.
As great as the Bulls' frontcourt was, I also have to toss bouquets at my favorite whipping boy, Kirk Hinrich. After going 0-of-8 from three in the triple-overtime loss to the Pelicans, Hinrich hit two threes in the early going to help set the tone for the Bulls' offense. And for as much as I like to make fun of the whole "running the offense" thing, he really was great at setting up his teammates and creating open looks. Kevin Harlan also brought up "grit" when talking about Hinrich, and Kirk even mixed it up with Norris Cole. Fun times.
What else was there? Oh yes, the Bulls' three-point shooting as a whole. Things are a lot more fun (and good) when the Bulls hit threes. With Hinrich leading the charge, the Bulls knocked down their first six threes of the game, and although there was some natural regression as the game went on, they still finished 10-of-19 from deep.
Even the few negatives from this game weren't completely awful. The Bulls didn't shoot well from the free throw line, but they got to the charity stripe eight more times than the Heat. And while Marquis Teague still can't make a shot (or a free throw) to save his life, he actually looked somewhat competent at times running the point. Progress!
Following a stretch that featured some really brutal games, this performance was extremely impressive. Yeah, the Heat looked listless for much of the night, but the Bulls' effort certainly contributed to that. It means very little in the big picture, no matter how much Reggie Miller and Greg Anthony say otherwise, but beating the Heat always feels great.