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2011 Eastern Conference Finals: season on the brink as Heat slow Rose and the Bulls again

Bulls vs Heat boxscore Pace (Poss) Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Chicago 90.6 (100) 93.0 43.7% 19.5 23.3 19.0
Miami 101.0 46.0% 42.7 20.0 15.0

I think the world has come around on the 'Heat can't win close games' thing by now, but what likely had a role in perpetuating that in the first place was how bizarre it was. In a league where most teams throw out most semblance of play-calling and just rely on their stars to 'make plays', the Heat have 2.5 options (and the best player in the league amongst them) where most teams have one. And the Bulls certainly only have one, so getting into a close game with these guys, even with Derrick Rose, is continually frightening.

The story with the Bulls offense remained the same as it has been the past two games: the entire Heat defense collapsed on Rose, and the rest of the team couldn't help him enough. Rose's pre-game self-hype of being more aggressive was mostly manifested in more jumpers, finishing 3-16 from outside of 10 feet, and 1-9 from three. The 7 turnovers were obviously a killer as well. Whether it was him putting too much on himself or losing trust in his teammates (and both would be understandable), he seemed more willing to put himself in risky situations in the paint.

Incurring more risk was sort of what the Bulls were going for early in the game, and it had a positive effect. They pushed the pace when they had even the slightest opportunity (Carlos Boozer with some ballsy outlet passes), and though it showed that the Bulls aren't exactly a smooth transition team it did at least keep Miami's defense from setting.

As the game went on, however, that seemed to go away, and the Bulls offense once again was rhythm-less. Possessions were consistently slow to develop, passing and movement weren't as crisp, and as much as the Bulls role players were simply disappointing, they also weren't open. The Heat have completely neutralized Kyle Korver in this series, and it really puts Thibodeau in a tough bind when he's 'forced' to pull him for Ronnie Brewer in that 4th quarter. Brewer had one of the few good games of the old bench mob (CJ Watson had a nice 2nd quarter but was matched by Mario Chalmers) but the lack of even creating even the threat of outside shooting plays into how the Heat defend. Korver's 3-point ability was as reliably clutch as Derrick Rose, and to see it diminish to the point of not even being an option anymore hurts tremendously.

Thibs also faced a bad break when it proved that Omer Asik was too hurt to even try to play in the game, limping nearly as soon as his night began. Surprising that with those minutes available that Taj Gibson only received 10 of them,  unfortunate as his line looked in the time he was allotted.  So it was a heavy-minute night for Noah and Boozer, and while they weren't exactly bad, the interior had to be an area where the Bulls completely dominated and they weren't able to do that. Boozer had his 20 and 10 but that was in over 49 minutes, and he had enough bad/dumb plays on defense to mitigate that production even more: a silly foul in the 1st quarter to put the Heat in the penalty, the flagrant foul in the 2nd half, some really poor help defense on LeBron. Noah did a decent job limiting Chris Bosh (he's going to hit open jumpers when the Bulls collapse on James/Wade, that's unstoppable) and was his high-energy self on the boards, but but wasn't finishing enough to become the scoring help he needs to be on a team that needs it from anywhere.

Again, not bad games from the Bulls frontcourt, but that's an advantage they have to exploit more, as with their bench. The Bulls role player woes have been mentioned, and meanwhile Mike Miller of all people (and all bad thumbs) scored 5 baskets. The Heat one again only went 8-deep but had contributions from all of them, and yet it was the Bulls who started to look fatigued (especially Luol Deng, who deserves special mention for his night) near the end.

It's easy to understand why they'd get to that point, seemingly having to try that much harder to both contain some of the best playmakers in the world on one end (and the constant foul-calls only add to it), and a committed athletic defense on the other. It's then exemplified (and perhaps a bit explanatory) with the lack of late-game execution from Rose and the offense. The Bulls can play this team close, but when it stays close that late it's Miami's advantage. The Bulls have to be feeling some kind of series fatigue as well, and with any odds-analysis when it comes to a 7-game series it's less about the statistical unlikelihood of a comeback: it's that the Bulls aren't the best team in this series.