It could be as simple as saying: the Heat have the stars and the Bulls don't. Ben Gordon was phenomenal but couldn't trade blow-for-blow with what the Heat were able to do in the final minutes. We've seen it too many times this season, staying close but missing the closer.
Shaq had his way with the Bulls inside, and Wade took over the game late as the Heat wound up winning a game that the Bulls could've stolen. There's a couple ways to look at this: Did Saturday's game expose the Heat as beatable? Or did they lose a game when things were going their way, and likely will not have that chance again?
I skipped game-recapping class as a youth, so it's time to use the blogger's best friend: bullet points!
- If you read the game thread last night, you know what I'll mention first: Where was Luol Deng in the 4th quarter? Skiles went with the 3-guard lineup for nearly the entire 4th quarter with Deng, while not having the best of games (6 points on only 4 shots in 21 minutes), sitting on the bench. This hurt the Bulls on both ends. Defensively, there were several possessions down the stretch where Wade found himself guarded by Duhon, and simply shot over the top of him with minimal effort. On offense, the return of the dribble-curl was in full force, as the Bulls simply stopped attacking the basket. Deng may have been nervous in his first playoff game, but they needed his slashing ability late. Nerves aside, 'playoff-tested' vets Hinrich and Nocioni were making poor decisions in their own right, culminating in Noc's contested 3-point attempt with 18 seconds to go in the game.
- The Bulls were able to hang around much of the 4th after taking a lead a few minutes into the quarter, but it seemed hollow as the points came on a barrage of 3-pointers. For the entire game they were 13-26 and that percentage can't be expected to continue.
- On the one hand, it seemed a lot of the calls on Shaq went the Bulls way, with a couple offensive fouls and several traveling violations going against Shaq. But then you look at the final totals and the Heat attempted 39 free-throws compared to the Bulls' 17. It was pretty much all Wade, as he attempted 16 of them. The ESPN2 talked about the Bulls not fouling Shaq enough. While the Bulls' big-men did wind up staying out of foul trouble, in Shaq's case it is a better percentage play to force him to the line, so they will need to be smart enough to know when to use their 6 fouls.
- Speaking of ESPN, I was highly entertained by the 'full circle' coverage. Walton may be a pain in the ass, but Tirico and Jones know he's full of it enough to the point where it becomes a fun dynamic. During commercial breaks I switched to the ESPN2 coverage with former Bulls Scottie Pippen and Greg Anthony proclaiming Shaq's premature demise and playing up the Bulls much of the night. Those predictions may have looked foolish at the end but they did a good job explaining how the Bulls have a chance in this series. I could only imagine how little time TNT's Barkley would have spent entertaining a possible Heat loss. I avoided Comcast except during halftime and post-game, where their coverage didn't get sidetracked by talking about the other playoff games and focused solely on Bulls talk.
- The Bulls plan was to attack Shaq early, but in the 2nd quarter they went about it the wrong way. They had success early running pick-and-rolls against him, having the guards penetrate and either trying to finish or kicking it out to Malik Allen (who had 8 points in the 1st). What didn't work was dumping the ball into Mike Sweetney, who when trying to go one-on-one managed a predictably poor result. There were also times when the Bulls guards would try and drive in to a waiting Shaq, who finished with 5 blocks. Make him work to recover and block shots, not simply run at him. When the Heat were blocking shots they were able to run their way to easy points, something the Bulls can't afford.
- Sweetney came out looking aggressive, if misguided, on offense. While I like the effort he shouldn't be taking 9 shots in 14 minutes. Sweets was known before coming here as a guy with touch around the basket, but he as completely lost it this year, and its best that he keeps his shots to a minimum. At least his time wasn't a complete sinkhole, which is more than I can say for Othella Harrington's 3 and a half minutes. They'll both (along with Allen and even Schenscher) have to be passable defenders (or foulers) and make Shaq at least have to stay awake on defense.
- Tyson Chandler had 5 points and 7 rebounds. Granted, Shaq is an awful matchup for him, but with Mourning out and Haslem missing the second half (and likely suspended for game 2), Tyson will have to do a lot more.
- Did the Bulls just waste their 'Ben Gordon game' in this series? Or is this his coming out party? He absolutely clowned Jason Williams before Gary Payton did a better job on him near the end. Nocioni also played incredibly well (except for the aforementioned final play), and him and Gordon seem to be carrying over their late-season peak, meaning this won't be a fluke game for them.
- The Bulls did manage to run, they had over 100 possessions in the game, and since they are a faster-paced team than Miami during the season you could say they 'dictated the tempo'. However, this does not work when the Heat are blocking shots and starting their own fast break, as it allows them to score without a dose of some physical Bulls defense. Overall though, I was happy with a high-tempo game the Bulls came out with. The Bulls have the youth and speed advantage so it is definitely to their benefit to keep it up in this series.
- Luol Deng, we miss you. Come back for game 2.