Tag: Heat Bulls Game 2

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game Two

LeBron James is suddenly looking very clutch


Fair or not, deserved or not, the national narrative on LeBron James has been that he wasn’t clutch. For all the games he took over, despite some impressive endings, the perception that he quit in Game 5 against the Celtics last season seemed the dominant memory for many.

LeBron doesn’t have a ring. Kobe has a ring. Wade had a ring. That made those two more clutch in the eyes of many.

That perception should be changed now.

LeBron took over at the end of Game 2 Wednesday night, getting 9 of his points in the final four-plus minutes of the game, plus he spent a chunk of his time covering and shutting down Derrick Rose on defense. In a game where the Miami Heat had to grab defensive rebounds, he had 10 boards. In the Heat’s biggest game of the season, he played his best.

Or maybe his best was last series against Boston, when he flat out took over the end of a couple games.

Either way, the narrative is changing. Look what Adrian Wojnarowski wrote at Yahoo.

This was clutch, winning basketball out of James. As closers go, this was pure Jordan, pure heartbreak.

“That’s why we put the ball in his hands,” Dwyane Wade(notes) said. “He’s going to make the big plays.”

Clutchness gets defined in odd ways. Some great shots or missed opportunities weigh more heavily than others. It’s a matter or perception, with some eye-of-the-beholder thrown in. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN tweeted this on Wednesday.

90% of clutch reputation can be explained by two factors: 1) Are you a shot-creator?; 2) Do you have a ring?

Coming into these playoffs, a lot of basketball fans would have said that LeBron was not clutch. He did not have that ring.

Things seem to be changing on both of those counts.

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NBA Playoffs: Udonis Haslem is back. Miami just got better.

Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem celebrates a basket against the Chicago Bulls during Game 2 of their NBA Eastern Conference Finals playoff basketball game in Chicago

When the Heat roster was in upheaval this summer, clearing out cap space to chase a three-man dream team, Udonis Haslem was a free agent. A free agent drawing interest from around the league because every team could use a forward who will do the dirty work and can bury the midrange jumper.

To show how badly they wanted to keep him, pretty much the entire Heat organization showed up for a surprise birthday party at Haslem’s place. Then to show how much they wanted him, each of the Heat’s “big three” took less money so Haslem could be signed to a fair offer.

Wednesday night you saw why.

When the rest of the Heat struggled in the third quarter, Haslem seemed to be everywhere. He shot 4-of-4 in the third quarter (as the first big off the bench) including a couple midrange jumpers, he had a blocked shot, an emphatic dunk, drew a charge and just seemed to be everywhere. After missing most of the season due to a foot injury (he was out from Nov. 20 to the Boston series), you saw how much they needed him. How much they missed him.

For one stretch of more than 11 minutes between the third and fourth quarters, Haslem was the only Heat player to score. He hit 2-of-4 from beyond 16 feet on offense and contested Derrick Rose shots at the rim on defense. He kept them in it and made the fourth quarter run and the Heat win possible.

In the first half he played more than 12 minutes, and the Bulls didn’t grab one offensive rebound in that stretch (they had six before that). He brought the toughness inside that Miami lacked in Game 1 and Zydrunis Ilgauskas is not about to bring.

Haslem changed the game, and the series.

“Now I question myself for not trying him earlier, but there was an incredible unknown,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We hadn’t seen him in a game, our practices at this point are not quite as long as they were midseason. But two days ago before practice I talked with him and there was something, a look in his eye, and I knew it was time.”

The Heat’s backup big men were not able to match the activity level of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in Game 1, but in Game 2 Haslem did that. He balanced that part of the scales.

He also got very tired at the end, showing the expected conditioning issues after missing so much time. Spoelstra can’t lean on him for heavy minutes, the 23 he played this game were a couple too many.

But he can lean on Haslem. His Heat teammates can lean on Haslem. And that is a huge boost for this team.

NBA Playoffs: Can Heat rebound — literally — against Bulls?

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game One

These are two very good defensive teams. They will contest virtually every shot, jump passing angles and not let players get to the spots they want on the floor.

In Game 1, the Bulls responded to that challenge by going to their strength in this series and crashing the offensive glass ferociously. The result was 19 offensive rebounds and a 1-0 series lead.

The Heat responded with isolation basketball and very little of the transition play that is their strength in this series. Those two things — and the rebounding — are what needs to change if the Heat are going back to Miami with an even series. (And while this is not must win, going ahead having to win four of five from Chicago is daunting.)

What about that rebounding? For one thing, the Heat have to rotate better, to help the helper on defense, and that second rotation has to box out. That didn’t happen in Game 1. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra may go with more size inside — maybe Zydrunas Ilgauskas, maybe more Jamal Magloire — but really it has to come from the core guys on the court. Specifically, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, to good rebounders for their position.

This is going to hurt somewhat with Miami’s stated goal of wanting to run more, but you can’t run without the rebound and the Heat were not getting them. It’s all about priorities.

LeBron and Wade are going to have to step up in the halfcourt, but not with isolation heroball as they did last game. The Bulls defense destroys isolation plays, even from the best isolation players. What the Heat did well against the Celtic — which runs the same Tom Thibodeau overload defense — was have Wade and James work well off the ball on the weakside, then had quick ball movement. The Bulls run the defense better, they are more aggressive. Luol Deng is a good defender and he is glued to James.

Miami needs to get into its sets earlier in the clock, then Wade and LeBron need to be more decisive and aggressive when coming off picks and driving. Their hesitancy (due to good pressure defense) cost the team looks. They have to attack.

The Bulls offense got fantastic outside shooting last game and that may not return. That comes and goes. But the Bulls had one second half turnover and if they can do that again it would be a huge advantage. Again, it’s about keeping the Heat out of transition situations. Chicago must control the tempo, turnovers and offensive boards are the key to that.

Chicago may get more out of Derrick Rose, but the key in every game this series will be somebody (or somebodies) stepping up and adding points. There has to be balance. The Heat will figure out how to slow Rose down, they have the athletes, but to do that will leave someone else open and the Bulls need to make them pay.

Game 2 is going to be closer than Game 1 in the end. The Heat seemed a little taken aback by the Bulls defense in the opener, but they will be more ready Thursday. And that should help this series start to live up to the hype.