This fallacy of 'energy' as a predictor of who was going to win was exposed yet again tonight. Throughout the first half the story was that the Heat got sent a message in game one and would try and come out in game two with more energy, to match the energy of the Bulls.
Well maybe they did, but I had thought they had energy in game one too. Energy isn't the problem, they're just slow. Even while staying close in the opening minutes, the Bulls were getting to the long rebounds (Ben Wallace was great tonight in generating extra possessions), pushing the ball, and aggressively running their offense and exploiting mismatches. The same strategy in that offense was in effect, feeding the ball to Luol down low. Unlike in game one, Lu wasn't hitting the close shots, and started out the game 1-6.
Fortunately Luol Deng isn't the Bulls best offensive player, it's Ben Gordon. What made me impressed with his performance in the first game was his ability to contribute without hitting his 3-pointers. Today the averages evened out, and it was bombs away for Ben. He was 5-8 from three while still being diverse in his shot selection by going inside. What changed was the lack of free-throw attempts, but it wasn't a matter of not going to rim, the Heat did a better job of keeping him off the line. Or maybe they just content with giving up easy points?
'Easy' was the theme of the night on offense for the Bulls. The Heat were slow chasing on screens, and disinterested (Jason Williams in particular) in rotating to shooters. The Heat actually seemed to do better getting back on defense in transition this game (and they had a lot of practice with the Bulls forcing 20 turnovers) but as we've seen in this series: the quickness advantage isn't only manifested on the fast break. In their set offense the Bulls were getting open looks all night, and finished 55% from the field and nearly 65% from 3. It was a remarkable offensive performance for a team that is much-maligned for their inability to score. The Bulls managed to look incredibly efficient even with 18 turnovers, as if the memories of those turnovers were eclipsed by seeing open shot after open shot.
Defensively it wasn't perfect, but the Bulls once again did a decent enough job of guarding Shaq while only using Wallace and Brown (Brown with the +26 in 31 minutes, fantastic on both ends of the floor tonight) and not allowing him to collapse the whole defense for everyone to get involved. The best part about getting these veteran additions is that you don't have to worry about them, and they deserve credit for holding their own in the paint like we've been told they would come playoff time.
The only worry on defense tonight was the times when Dwyane Wade would take over stretches. And most of that was against Chris Duhon, who I had hoped was abandoned by Skiles after Thabo's game one performance but got another stint tonight in the final 4:30 of the second quarter, and again for another 12 minutes beginning in the middle of the third. Granted, Thabo Sefolosha was making mistakes on offense and wasn't as effective on Wade as he was in the series opener, but Duhon was poison out there. It wasn't just Wade getting to the basket, it was the needed help it caused, leaving the shooters (like Posey who hit two threes to end the first half) wide open. Between Kirk Hinrich and Thabo, and especially on a better night from Hinrich where he did a better job of staying on the court, there is no reason for Skiles to have Duhon as be the primary defender on Wade. I'm not saying he should never play, but not when he has to guard Wade.
This could've killed the Bulls if only, ya know, the Heat wanted to stop the Bulls scoring barrage. To end the half when the defense was starting to melt down, Nocioni, Deng and Gordon kept hitting shots and keeping that lead up. In the 4th when you could feel another Miami run coming on, Luol Deng hit 6 straight shots to keep the game out of reach. After that it was, as the Knicks would say, running up the score time.
Riley said something interesting in the press conference when asked about how to stop the Bulls 'jump shooting' attack. Riley rightly clarified that the Bulls don't just shoot jumpers, it wasn't like they're running a play for Kirk, Luol, and Ben to get jump shots. Everybody's constantly moving with and without the ball, and they make it hard on the defense to find the open shooter. Riley further emphasized the effectiveness by saying how since the Bulls have been doing it for a whole season it makes that offense run much easier by this time of the year.
It's that constant movement that the Heat haven't been able to figure out how to stop. Not yet at least, and I'm sure the rim will seemingly tighten up for Gordon, Deng, Hinrich(6-12 tonight on a good bounce-back performance) at points on the road. But if the Bulls keep getting this open while an aged Heat defender flails away a few steps behind, the shots will likely keep falling.