May 19, 2011, 12:15 AM EDT
The final box score makes it look like the Heat evened up the Eastern Conference finals with relative ease. Miami won by a final score of 85-75, the Bulls shot only 34 percent from the floor, and Derrick Rose shot 7-for-23 from the floor while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to score 53 points.
In reality, though, this was one of the hardest wins the Heat have had all year. The Bulls missed shots all game long, and the Heat were able to execute their offense fairly well against the league’s best defense, but the game was tied with under five minutes to play thanks to the Bulls’ relentless energy, aggression, depth, and toughness. The Bulls couldn’t buy a shot all game, but they were beating the Heat to every loose ball, forcing more turnovers, and getting second- and third-shot attempts on a regular basis.
Erik Spoelstra made a desperation move to attempt to stop the bleeding on the boards, going to Jamaal Magloire, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem off the bench instead of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mario Chalmers and James Jones. It worked like gangbusters. Miller and Magloire provided the size, rebounding and hustle that the Heat desperately lacked in Game 1, and Haslem had the kind of game nobody thought he’d have in these playoffs, coming back from a foot injury to record 13 points on mid-range jumpers and dunks in transition, three offensive rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and a charge taken.
The last quarter was a knock-down, drag-out affair, as the exhausted teams combined to score only 24 points in the final period. In the end, though, the difference proved to be that the Heat had LeBron James and the Bulls did not.
With the score tied at 73 with 4:28 remaining, James drilled a 3-pointer off the dribble that ended up giving the Heat the lead for good. From there, he closed out the Bulls with ruthless efficiency, scoring nine of the Heat’s final 12 points as the Bulls only managed two points in the final seven minutes of play.
How should the Heat feel about this win? It’s hard to say. They did everything right. They kept the Bulls’ bigs from making an offensive impact, they blocked three of Rose’s shots and held him to 2-of-12 shooting from inside of the paint, and Wade and James were both able to play their games. That said, it was still an absolute battle, and the Bulls could easily have gone up 2-0 if the ball had bounced their way a few times in the final five minutes. The Heat got the game in Chicago they desperately needed, but they shouldn’t take any home wins for granted against a team that plays with the kind of energy the Bulls do.
The Heat got ambushed in Game 1. Before Game 2, Spoelstra made some major adjustments to the Heat’s sets and substitution patterns, and his gambles paid off. Now it’s Tom Thibodeau and Rose’s turn to make adjustments, and we’ll see if they’re up to the task. The Bulls’ season is simple at this point: either they win in Miami, or they go home.
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