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Bulls 93, Heat 89: Bulls take season series with thrilling victory

 (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Miami 93.0 95.7 41.8% 29.1 13.0 12.9
Chicago 100.0 43.9% 25.6 28.3 15.1

Well, we can figure this much heading into a potential playoff matchup against the Heat: the Bulls can certainly compete to win the home games (and earning the tiebreaker tonight may be significant...), and maybe even take the series. And we know which inherent advantages they can leverage to do so.

The first is to dominate inside. Even in a game where Noah still showed some rust (his first 2nd half stint ended early and on his own accord as he pulled himself after being winded) The Bulls absolutely controlled the glass throughout the game, they were able to use Carlos Boozer early, and defensively harassed Chris Bosh into one of the worst high-volume performances in NBA history, finishing 1-18 from the field. Knowing that they could hide Boozer against the usual assortment of stiff centers (though Dampier wasn't that bad, but still), Thibs put Noah on Chris Bosh and forced him to be a jumpshooter. Usually Bosh is A-OK with that, and the Bulls strategy along with having like Wade and James still provided most of his looks as wide-open, but he kept missing. A lot. I was openly cheering every time Bosh got the ball, at some point (maybe miss #11? 12?) it had to be getting to his head and rendering him unable to snap out of it. He also contributed this beauty of a moment. Like a Bosh, indeed.

Another advantage for the Bulls is to use their depth, and in a game where the entire Miami bench had 2 points the Bulls had several contributors. I'll forgive Thibs for whatever had him bury Omer Asik on the bench during Wednesday night's loss in Toronto (was he maybe being held out for a trade? wouldn't we have heard that?), as he rectified that mistake early by having Asik in as Noah's replacement instead of using Kurt Thomas (who received a DNP). Asik did more than his part, held scoreless but affecting the game in a huge way nonetheless in his 20 minutes by grabbing 11 rebounds and being a force defensively. Another defensive force off the bench was Ronnie Brewer, who had 4 steals and had the thankless task of guarding LeBron when Deng was on the bench. Brewer also chipped in 8 points and did his usual job of pushing the pace with the Bulls 2nd unit, where Asik belongs. Even if the Turkish Delight had faltered tonight, he needs to play to be a reliable member of the playoff rotation, so it's great news that development looks to be starting ASAP. (anti-shout-out to Taj, who again kept missing at the rim and had some real silly fouls to help the Heat get into the penalty. Hey, can't all be sunshine...)

And yet another way the Bulls took tonight's game, and how they can take a playoff series, is by being physical. It was that type of game tonight, and it seems to work in the Bulls favor. On defense, they have that ol' Celtics (as in Thibodeau) M.O. of fouling so much that the refs can't call every single one, to where the game as a whole becomes a physical kind of contest. Not that it takes much to get the likes of James and Wade complaining, but they were significantly preoccupied with the officials (Bosh would instead stare at the ceiling when it came to his struggles) all night and while both had outstanding games its a small victory to at least make things rough on them. And on the Bulls end, Derrick Rose is used to powering through contact to get his points. If teams want to get similarly rough with him, he has the type of strength and mentality to play through it. I think a lot of his teammates do as well.

The Heat are still very frightening and looked very impressive at times, especially early when they were able to run off of turnovers. And I'm still scared to death of seeing LeBron and Wade line up against this team. Not to tie-in the trade deadline (as that's really a bigger, long-term vs. short-term, 'championship window', spending habits, etc. issue) but a new SG not only would get our Keith Bogans minutes near zero but provide an alternative to having to see Kyle Korver cover one of the 2 best players in the league at the end of games. Korver did have a huge 3 late, and will need to do so to justify his time in such situations, because I don't know what he can do on defense in those lineups.

But at least the other wing is Luol Deng, who was solid as one can be defensively against James (if he hits that step-back jumper, so be it) was aggressive attacking the rim, and hit a huge corner 3 to put the Bulls ahead for good. It was a very good play from Derrick Rose after he drew in the defense, ironically in a way that James had (unfairly) been criticized for in the past. Rose didn't try to be the hero, he made the best play to feed the wide-open Deng, and for once (ok...for one of very few times), Luol was clutch. Rose overall didn't have the best of nights, but he was able to come through with that play and some huge baskets late, even after the Heat switched LeBron on him. Because Rose is not like me, he's not scared...and his team doesn't look to be either.

There is something liberating about the trade deadline being over: for better or for worse this is our team the rest of the way. No longer is there that lingering feeling of hoping management sees faults to improve, or the idea of imagining other players swapped in and how they could be a better squad. This is the team for the stretch run and the playoffs, and it's going to be fun to watch them try and win it. They've certainly proven they have a chance.