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2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game One - Bulls 103, Heat 82: With bigs and bench, Bulls wear down and rout Miami

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Taj!  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Taj! (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Miami 83.0 98.8 49.3% 22.1 18.8 19.3
Chicago 124.1 49.4% 19.5 41.3 10.8

 

Well, if the Bulls are to win, this is how it happens. As speculated, the Heat went conventionally unconventional with their smaller lineups (Ilgauskas and Dampier weren't even active), forced to do so not as much as a strategy but in that there aren't many better options. In response, Thibodeau stayed with what's been working all season, and through having his Bulls stay big, they destroyed the Heat on the boards and completely suffocated the Heat's offense. And while the Heat struggled to get any contributions beyond their stars, the Bulls bench helped everywhere. It's those advantages that the Bulls will have all series, and game one demonstrated it emphatically.

Outside of the first few minutes when the aggressive Heat traps forced Rose into a couple turnovers, the Bulls played a nearly perfect game. Even the turnovers stopped as they finished with 9. With that diminishing the Heat's ability to run, the Bulls defense showed how it can control any team, even those with great shotmakers. Luol Deng did a fantastic job on LeBron James, forcing James into a startlingly quiet performance (seeing the 15 attempts alone is a bizarre line). Bogans and Brewer shared the load on Dwayne Wade, and both he and LeBron only went to the line 4 times each. When they can't get to the line, or create open 3-point opportunities for teammates (as a team they were 3-8 from behind the line), it's a much less scary proposition facing two all-league players. They'll have better days, and Chris Bosh's 30-point night can remind all of us he can play a bit as well (while still being easily rip-able). However, if the Bulls defense can play like this, James and Wade are not going to have outstanding games, which they need to have their team win.

It wasn't just those tasked with the main assignments that slowed down James and Wade, but the secondary help was outstandingly effective as well. As stated earlier (and it really can't be said enough), the Bulls enjoyed a dominant rebounding advantage staying with their normal big-man rotation, but they were able to keep Noah, Asik, and Gibson (and yes, you too Carlos Boozer) on the floor because the Heat couldn't punish them with their assumed quickness advantage. Even when the Bulls bigs were switched out towards an unfavorable matchup on screens, the Heat were unable to capitalize. Taj Gibson did everything from blocking shots inside, to switching out and containing LeBron on the perimeter (Asik even had a possession where he forced James outside, though he made the 3-pointer), to chasing James Jones off the ball.

Gibson had a couple, ahem pretty decent plays on the other end too. The Bulls offense mostly rolled on their ability to create easy shots off of offensive rebounds and turnovers, and their 3-pointers were a significant part of their night, especially early when they helped counter the turnover struggles. Rose had a couple bombs in that time, on his way to a quietly impressive(felt that way, somehow) 28-point night. Luol Deng's 4-6 performance from beyond the arc was a key 2nd scoring option (and outscoring his star counterpart, LeBron). Boozer and Noah chipped in 14 and 9 apiece, and the rest of the box score is littered with a handful of points from all kinds of contributors. Look at the other team, and you see a far more concentrated output and a lot of dead-weight minutes.

This is now the second straight tremendous performance from the Bulls, and maybe the signal that they're healthy and peaking at a very opportune time. This is, of course, a series, and each game can tell a different story about how these teams match up. But with how the Bulls played tonight and the way they used advantages they should always have going into these games, it's up to Miami to figure it out. The Bulls will continue to be big, their bigs will be deep. They'll also be pretty damned good.