One day doesn’t change that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.
What Sunday showed is why on the path to that show do neither of those teams wants to see the Chicago Bulls.
Sunday at home against the Miami Chicago was relentless, physical, they defended well, they take away the easy buckets so you have to work for every point. They take a lot out of whomever they face.
That’s what happened to Miami on Sunday in Chicago. The Heat pulled ahead by 12 early in the fourth quarter but the Bulls battled back, made enough shots down the stretch and forced the game to overtime, where they dominated and beat Miami 95-88.
Joakim Noah continued his run of play that inspires MVP chants with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. A couple weeks back he was frustrated with his team’s collapse late in Miami, so this time he put the Bulls offense on his back when they need points — he finds a way to get buckets. Not pretty buckets, but buckets. More importantly, on defense he can and did switch picks on to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and can lock them up. D.J. Augustin came off the bench to provide a 22-point spark for the Bulls. Jimmy Buttler had 16 points and 11 boards (plus a key strip of LeBron late). That was enough offense to get the job done.
However, as always the Bulls won with defense. LeBron James shot 8-of-23, struggling with his jumper going left all game — he can’t blame the sleeves this time — plus he never got to the free throw once. Dwyane Wade carried the Heat offense for long stretches and scored 25 points on 16 shots, and Chris Bosh chipped in 15. However, as a team the Heat shot just 40.5 percent and were 7-of-20 from three.
The Heat played strong defense as well, with Chicago shooting just 42.2 percent on the game. However when they needed it they were able to generate offense, something the Heat struggled to do.
Chicago came out playing good defense from the start and held the Heat to 41.2 percent shooting in the first half. It was close through the second quarter and the Bulls led until Miami went on 15-0 run late in second half. That run happened when Bulls missed and the Heat pushed in transition and converted. Chicago went 0-of-10 shooting with a 24-second violation in the mix during a scoreless five minute stretch and Miami converted the misses into transition buckets — Bosh got one on a great pass from Chalmers, then LeBron James had one also.
Heat lead 43-37 at half.
Miami stretched that lead out a little in the third quarter and early in the fourth got it up to a dozen.
But the Bulls never quit. Ever. They are the Terminator of basketball teams, and they wore down the Heat and caught them.
This matchup has been a feisty, physical rivalry for a few years now, the Bulls just play the Heat tough. In a seven game series Chicago would lack the scoring to keep up as Miami adjusted, but Chicago would wear them down. The Bulls would wear down Indiana as well.
Chicago, even without Derrick Rose, is the third best team in the East. They are the team to avoid in the East.