HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s a couple of months late, of course, but Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose is apparently back to being, well … Derrick Rose.
So says Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who recently worked Rose out and had rave reviews for the former MVP and All-Star point guard who missed the entire season recovering from ACL surgery.
Granted, this is the news that Bulls fans were hoping for in February, March and even early April, as they sweated out whether or not Rose would return in time to help the Bulls in their playoff push that ended at the hands of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Mid-June is obviously a little late for the Bulls to do anything but crank up the expectations for next season, what with the news that Rose is back to his old explosive self again. More from Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com:
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose’s speed and explosiveness are back to where the former MVP feels like himself again.
“I worked him out about a week ago,” Thibodeau said in a phone conversation Thursday. “It was great.”
Rose missed the entire season rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during last year’s playoffs. His longer-than-expected absence, and the ensuing debate about it, was the overwhelming storyline during a challenging Bulls season that ended in a second-round loss to the Miami Heat.
Last season is over, and Thibodeau is looking to the future.
“Watching the way he’s moving now, there’s a confidence,” Thibodeau said. “[Reporters] may not have been able to see the total work he was putting in. But he was putting in an enormous amount of work each and every day. He just never got to the explosiveness he was comfortable with. I think he’s there now. He feels great, and that’s the most important thing.”
He said Rose is “running, lifting, playing and shooting. His day is full.”
Thibodeau also cleared up one bit of information that bothered me throughout the Rose playoffs/comeback drama. We kept hearing about how Rose was dominating in practice after being cleared by the Bulls’ medical staff to resume normal activity. I couldn’t imagine him being that impressive and not returning to action. Thibodeau confirmed my suspicion:
“The kid was being totally honest,” Thibodeau said. “At the end of the day, you have to respect that. He wanted to be out there very badly. But no one knew when he would be ready, including him. It was a smart decision to wait. If you’re not quite sure, and you’re going to err, err on the side of caution. That’s what he did. And now he feels great.”
While reports speculated that Rose was dominating his teammates in the gym, Thibodeau says now that wasn’t the case.
“He was practicing and he was good sometimes, but he also wasn’t able to make the kinds of plays he likes to make,” Thibodeau said. “No one is more explosive and can change direction like him. He had to be capable of doing that.
“That’s what makes him so unique, how quick and explosive he is,” Thibodeau continued. “He can jump sideways to avoid contact. He’s always hopping around. That’s a lot on your knee. You have to be comfortable doing that. He takes off and he doesn’t take long to go from securing the ball to exploding and blowing by somebody.”
The criticism of Rose seemed overblown at the time, a point that Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson and the rest of his teammates made clear during the firestorm. And all of this latest news only reinforces the point that we should have taken Rose at his word when he said he was not ready to return in a fashion he saw fit.
CHICAGO – Phil Jackson has been hitting it hard on his book tour this week, talking up his latest work on late-night TV and national radio broadcasts. Still, in a spate of appearances in the city where his unparalleled NBA coaching success began, the talk invariably has veered back to the one that got away.
The book is titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” (Penguin Press, 2013). People in Chicago, where rings are hard to come by, still wonder about that missing 12th.
Oh, there wasn’t much Jackson or anyone else with the Bulls could do about the 1994 and ’95 NBA titles seized by Houston during the first of Michael Jordan‘s three NBA retirements. And no one in the audience Thursday night at the Palmer House Hilton, where Jackson appeared as part of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary series, cared much about the Lakers’ failure to win again in 2011 and finish off what would have been Jackson’s fourth three-peat.
But many in the Windy City crowd of about 750 wanted to know: What about 1999? That was the NBA’s first lockout-shortened season, a schedule that seemed perfect for a veteran-laden team like the Bulls.
And yet, they didn’t even try. The band broke up, the run was over. Jackson famously rode off on a fat motorcycle and Chicago’s NBA team all but went dark for the next half dozen seasons.
Coach Phil Jackson talks with the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson (right) as he discusses his new book, ‘Eleven Rings’, and his long NBA career. (Courtesy Chicago Tribune)
“I know how hard it is, so many people in Chicago say, ‘You could have continued to win,’ ” Jackson told the audience. “Yes – maybe.”
Ultimately it was Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ determined general manager, who brought that run to its end, the Hall of Fame former coach said.
As stubborn as Jackson or Jordan (and often butting heads with both), Krause had made it clear to the Bulls coach that his run there was over. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf asked him to return but Jackson declined. “I just felt our relationship had deteriorated such that, for me to come back, it would be too difficult for Jerry Krause.”
That was the first domino. Jordan didn’t want to play for another coach and, besides, he cut his finger – with a cigar cutter, the story went – badly enough to need surgery. Dennis Rodman essentially was done as an NBA player. Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr went elsewhere to get paid better than in their Chicago stays.
It’s doubtful Krause would fill a downtown ballroom on a night the NHL Blackhawks were active in the Stanley Cup playoffs, touting a book titled “Organizations Win Rings” or something like that.
“Right up until the end, we worked well together,” Jackson said, after acknowledging their different temperaments. “We had a wonderful time as a team for three years and we really appreciated it.” (more…)
And then there’s Chris Bosh, the man who Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstrainsists has been his team’s most important player for quite some time. Yeah, Spoelstra’s right. Bosh might not look like the stand-alone star he was in Toronto, but he has become the Heat’s X-factor. His nightly performance often pushes them over the top and allows the Heat to “play our game,” as the coach explained earlier in this postseason when he was trying to describe Bosh’s role in Miami.
LeBron is a machine who gives the Heat everything you’d expect a four-time MVP to give in the playoffs. And no one is suggesting that Bosh is challenging LeBron as the Heat’s most valuable player. But Bosh’s steady presence at his position is what unlocks the box for the Heat, who need to be able to spread the floor and attack to play at their best. He’s made Bulls forward Carlos Boozer the invisible man in a battle that is as one-sided as the Heat’s 3-1 series lead.
Bosh struggled in the series opener, finishing with just nine points and six rebounds as the Bulls shocked them at AmericanAirlines Arena. Since then, he’s schooled the Bulls routinely. He dropped 13 points, five rebounds and three assists in that Game 2 blowout win, 20 points, 19 boards, four assists and two blocks in that grimy Game 3 win at the United Center and another 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks in Monday night’s Game 4 rout.
Even more impressive than the numbers, though, is Bosh’s presence and the way he has stressed the Bulls. Wade has been a shell of himself in this series, which would provide an opening for teams good enough to still be participating in the playoffs. But not when Bosh is the threat he has been in this series.
“Hell, yeah, of course. I’ve been a Hall of Famer like four years ago,” he said. “And I say that very serious, though. I’ve talked about it before with my friends.”
I’ve talked it over with a few of my friends as well, and, to a man, they disagree with Bosh. They still have a hard time seeing him as a true Hall of Famer. But I’ve come around to Bosh’s side over the last two seasons. I remember the Heat wobbling last year while he was injured in the playoffs and the boost both he and Wade provided when they got healthy and helped the Heat put away the Oklahoma City Thunder in The Finals.
The Hall of Fame isn’t a far-fetched notion for a player with Bosh’s credentials: career averages of 20 points and nine rebounds, eight All-Star nominations (and counting) and who knows how many championship rings he ends up with during this run with the Heat.
CHICAGO – Dwyane Wade acknowledged Sunday that, yes, after eschewing the use of a mouthguard through his NBA career, he now has begun chewing one. Wade said he has been wearing the protection for his teeth and mouth since Game 1 of the Miami Heat’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Chicago Bulls.
Any skepticism as to how physical the combatants expected this series to be can pretty much end there. Actually, Wade said a series of blows prompted his decision to sacrifice chewing gum for some oral protection.
“Because I’ve been getting hit in the mouth too much and I’ve been getting a lot of cuts in my mouth and I can’t eat during the week,” he said after the Heat’s practice at a University of Illinois-Chicago gym. “So I decided it’s now.
“I’m a gum chewer. But getting hit in the mouth and having to deal with these cuts in my mouth for like two weeks, torture. I can’t do it no more. I finally gave in.”
Getting used to occasional bouts of dry mouth beats oral surgery and dining through a straw, possible results in a playoff series as fiercely contested as this one. Even as the tough stuff seems to be backfiring on the Bulls — they have paid the price in foul calls, technical fouls, ejections and most recently in the $35,000 fine levied on coach Tom Thibodeau for remarks about the officiating — that team is determined to keep contact high.
It sees now other way to dig out of the 2-1 hole and survive the best-of-seven series.
“Yes, I expect the physical nature to continue tomorrow,” Bulls center Joakim Noah told reporters at his team’s practice facility. “Y’know, it’s our only chance.
“It’s just that, when you have somebody like LeBron James coming at you full speed, yeah, there’s a lot of contact. It’s just a part of the game. You look at playoff basketball, it’s always physical. You look at every series, it’s physical.”
Undermanned in the absence of forward Luol Deng (illness) and guards Kirk Hinrich (calf bruise) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab), the Bulls know their skill level can’t match or top Miami’s. That has them relying more than ever on a grinding defense and enough body-on-body work to, in theory, make the Heat players — from stars James, Wade and Chris Bosh to the fleet of 3-point shooters — uncomfortable.
“We’re a hard-nosed, tough-guy team,” Chicago forward Jimmy Butler said. “That’s what we label ourselves as. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re going to come out swinging.”
To which the Heat basically responded: Whatever.
“None of this is new to us,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “Nobody can hide from the fact that the games will be decided between those four lines. And our guys understand that.”
CHICAGO – Shorthanded from their first practice of training camp through the 104-94 Game 3 loss to the Miami Heat Friday night at United Center in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Chicago Bulls have remained stoic throughout — sphinx-like, even.
At no point during a season defined as much by who hasn’t played as who has – no Derrick Rose at all, no Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich for about half of this playoff run now – have they whined. No grousing, no feeling sorry for themselves, no covetous glances or comments about the relative health of their opponents.
The Bulls have fallen in line behind their coach, Tom Thibodeau, who replays the same half dozen or so responses to any questions he fields about the team’s shortage of healthy players. More than enough to win. Do your job. Next man up. More than answers, they’re mantras and affirmations, repeated so often now that the fellows in Chicago’s dressing room truly believe.
Only it’s gone on too long now. The manpower disadvantage Chicago drags onto the court each game in this series against the NBA’s defending champions is starting to seize up on them. It’s frustrating, facing mighty Miami outnumbered and undermanned, and it’s starting to poke through not as woe-are-we grumbles about their injury plight but in a creeping sense of persecution.
Maybe it’s not merely the unfairness of relying on the same seven or eight players night after night, the Bulls more than hinted after Friday’s defeat, while the Heat can draw a rotation from 10 or 12. Maybe it’s the impossibility of winning basketball games five-on-eight, when three on the other side have whistles.
Yes, for the last few days, Thibodeau and the Bulls have gone there.
“We’re well aware of what’s going on,” the coach said after a game in which his backup center Nazr Mohammed got ejected for pushing Miami’s LeBron James in the second quarter and his starter Joakim Noah got called on what might have been an offensive rebound in the final minutes.
The former, a stunning moment that saw the NBA’s Most Valuable Player toppling backwards (and looking for the best place to land as he fell), cost Chicago Mohammed’s services, which typically provide 10 or 15 minutes rest for Noah. The latter, with the Bulls down 88-83 with 3:15 to play, might have triggered a four- or five-point swing when Noah’s foul coughed up the ball and the Heat’s Chris Bosh sank two free throws.
“When you play this team, you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness,” Thibodeau said. “And things aren’t going to go your way. We’re not going to get calls. That’s reality. We’ve still got to find a way to get it done. And we can.”
That might read like typical Thibs-ese, but there are insinuations in it of a double standard at work. Thibodeau has dropped in comments about the Bulls “not getting calls” each day since their 115-78 meltdown in Game 2 Wednesday, when Chicago players were slapped with six technical fouls and both Noah and Taj Gibson were ejected.
Fact is, the sense that Miami might try to muscle up in this series dates back to Chicago’s streak-busting victory on March 27. After that game, in which the Heat’s run of consecutive victories ended at 27, James complained publicly about the Bulls being overly aggressive – particularly two “not basketball plays” in which Hinrich tackled him and Gibson knocked him down awkwardly in the lane. James acted out his frustration that night, slamming into Bulls forward Carlos Boozer to earn his own flagrant foul.
But the tone was set.
Game 1 flew below the radar, Miami searching for its game and its edge beneath some layoff rust and a lack of urgency dating back weeks. But Game 2 got snarly – in the tradition of Dwyane Wade pushing Rip Hamilton into the seats last season – and Game 3 wanted to go that way, too, if not for referee Joey Crawford, and his notoriously short fuse, working as the night’s top cop.
Still, it didn’t stop Mohammed. After the backup center fouled James to prevent a fast break, the Miami star pushed back – harder – sending the bigger man to the floor. Mohammed got up and, without even realizing James had just earned a technical foul for that move, shoved back. James went reeling, lost his balance or folded in a little theatrics exaggerating the impact enough that Mohammed was a sure goner from the game. Easy ejection.
The Bulls, however, didn’t see it that way.
“From my angle, I just saw a guy basically flop,” Thibodeau said. “And … I’m gonna leave it at that.”
Only he didn’t. Asked specifically about the refs’ decision to eject Mohammed, the Bulls coach said: “I didn’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul. I understand that. But an ejection? No. No. Nope.”
Mohammed said he never imagined he would get tossed, given James’ shove triggered his reaction. And that’s where the context of what had happened – the way the series has gone, the way most of the games between Chicago and Miami have gone the past three seasons – bubbled to the surface.
“I look at some plays that have happened through the series already,” Mohammed said. “Guys jumping on [Nate Robinson's] face. [A] Guy tackling Marco Belinelli out of bounds. Guy takes out Nate first play of the game. I mean, there have been a lot of plays that didn’t [get] ejections.
“I’m disappointed in myself. I let my teammates down, I could have been out there to help. I’m disappointed in myself also because my son was probably watching the game. I don’t want him to see that type of behavior on the court. But I’m also disappointed it warranted an ejection for something like a push when I got pushed down first.”
There also was a heated moment late in the first quarter when Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Anderson fell atop Robinson along the baseline and wasn’t getting off him fast enough to suit Noah. The Heat do seem to aim their falls so they land on opposing players, so Noah rushed over and shoved Andersen, as he was untangling from the Bulls guard. It was a sneak preview of the Mohammed-James altercation.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra brushed aside questions about the dust-ups, calling them “inconsequential” to the outcome. And, mostly, Spoelstra was right. Chicago could not get stops when it needed them down the stretch and the Heat got a big game from Bosh, unexpected help from backup guard Norris Cole and timely scoring late from James.
But the Mohammed and Noah incidents did matter to Chicago, same as nudge foul by Jimmy Butler on James for a three-point play that made it 99-90. The series is one of attrition for the Bulls, so more than doling out free throws, any disparity in how fouls are assessed further shortens their bench and dictates which players Thibodeau can keep on the floor, for fear of maxing out with six.
Miami can play with abandon, as the Bulls see it, because it has numbers on them. Its stars rarely veer into foul trouble – James had only three games this season of more than three fouls and never fouled out, while Wade had one disqualification and five more with more than three – and there is depth for everyone else.
“I’m watching how things are going,” Thibodeau said. “I see how things are going. I watch very closely. And what I’m seeing, we’ll adjust accordingly.”
Coming from a guy who’d rather sing the anthem pregame than make excuses or shift responsibility anywhere but within, it was telling. A sign, it seemed, that the toothache of missing players had pounded on too long.
Also telling: Noah’s reaction when asked late Friday if that March 27 game and James’ gripes about it had bled into how Miami was playing and the refs were calling things now.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” the Bulls center said.
His words said one thing. His eye roll, broad enough for Broadway, said another.
CHICAGO – Symbolically at least, the changeover crew at the United Center should have left the hockey boards up for Game 3 of the Chicago Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Given how significantly the intensity and physical play were dialed up for Game 2 in Miami – a 115-78 Heat victory that not only stuck the Bulls with the most lopsided loss in their NBA playoff history but punked them, too – the shift to Chicago’s home ice, er, court figures to ratchet up again.
“Because of the technicals and ejections, there might be a perception it’s going above and beyond basketball – it’s not,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two physical teams. Type A personalities.”
Two alpha dogs that don’t particularly like each other. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them,” LeBron James said. “We have to carry that same aggression, that same attitude into Game 3.”
The Bulls got worse than they gave in Game 2, from the scoreboard, from the stats sheet (pounded 56-18 in the paint, coughing up 28 points on 19 turnovers), from the referees (six technical fouls and ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson) and from Miami in general in first strikes and aggressiveness. The Heat presumably won’t show up Friday night with Birdwoman – the snarling blonde matron who displayed her singular talent in Noah’s face – but they will have Birdman Andersen, as well as a roster full of defending champs and first-time ring seekers eager to meet their first serious road challenge of the postseason (Milwaukee, for two quick games in Round 1, was embarrassingly hospitable in every way).
Meanwhile, the Bulls — already undermanned without Luol Deng (illness), Kirk Hinrich (bruised calf) and Derrick Rose (knee rehab) – will have to calibrate their physical play; they don’t have the manpower to absorb needless ejections, technicals or personal fouls. They will, however, have crowd muscle in their packed, raucous arena.
For fans at the United Center, upraised middle fingers are part of the daily commute, so they’ll be antsy to up the ante or, at least, the decibels. And as far as that league-wide trend this season of Heat “hate” dissipating – in apparent appreciation of James’, Dwyane Wade‘s and other Heat players’ excellence, along with more folks in Miami garb infiltrating more buildings – let’s just say Chicagoans never got that memo.
It’s a potentially combustible mix: a road team determined to not get pushed around the way it did last time in the UC (the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak), some cranky hosts ready to assert home court, a boisterous, Friday-night crowd primed to play some role in the series and three referees bringing fresh eyes to a pivotal contest toting two games’ worth of baggage.
Somewhere within that Chicago will have to find ways to protect the rim better – a 41-28 rebounding disparity and no blocks/few altered shots against the Heat’s heavy interior attack proved fatal, even before all the jawing and theatrics at ref Scott Foster and his crew.
“I don’t want to put it on the officials,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If it doesn’t go your way, you can’t allow it to impact your next play. You can’t allow it to get you sidetracked so you don’t do your job. You have to have the ability to do your job all the time. You have to have great concentration.”
One area of concentration for Miami after Game 1 was Nate Robinson, the fireplug Chicago guard who was a reasonable Rose facsimile that night (27 points, nine assists, 10 free throws). Heavy defensive attention from James never was needed, but the Heat’s own point guards and other defenders made life more miserable for Robinson. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and four turnovers to two assists.
“They’re the world champions for a reason and they played like it,” Robinson said. “We just flat-out sucked.”
At the other end, Miami had to be please that it played fast, hit 3-point looks that clanged off in Game 1 and shook some extra rust off Wade, who scored eight of his 17 points in the decisive 30-15 third quarter. He shot 7-11, hitting his final six after a 1-for-5 start.
In personnel, the series grinds on as a mismatch – Miami boasting three of the top league’s top 20 players (and No. 1 overall), Chicago missing three guys from its preferred eight-man rotation. In intangibles, the Bulls do have the homecourt edge now, though United Center was where the Heat snuffed Chicago’s postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 East finals.
“It’s more than just not liking them,” Noah said. “It’s just two teams that want to win.”
So expect contact. Expect booing. Expect basketball. Expect whistles. Expect whining. Expect double-digit leads and comebacks. Expect single-finger salutes, too – right now the series stands 1-1-1.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With each of the four conference semifinals tied at 1-1 (for the first time since this round went to seven games in 1968), it’s a great time to mine the lineup data provided by NBA.com/Stats for trends, anomalies, and whatever information might be useful … or at least interesting.
The eight teams remaining have only played between six and nine games, so we’re not looking at very big sample sizes here. But small sample sizes are all you have to go on in the playoffs. Decisions have to be made on how players or player combinations have played in that series and against that opponent. Even if you include numbers against the opponent in the regular season, that’s at most four additional games of data.
We’ve already seen some of these teams change lineups mid-series. And sometimes, like when the Dallas Mavericks decided to start J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals, a lineup change can make a big difference.
So, as we take our first day off of the playoffs, here are some notes from 53 games worth of postseason lineup data…
It was a plus-48 in the first round and a plus-5 in both Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals. The problem, of course, is that the Indiana bench stinks. In 216 minutes, all other Pacers lineups have scored 93.1 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105.8, for a NetRtg of -12.7 in the postseason.
Indy coach Frank Vogel talks often about his emphasis on defending without fouling. That’s key to not only keep the Pacers’ opponents off the line, but also to keep their starters on the floor.
Over their eight playoff games, every Pacer starter has a positive plus-minus and every sub has a negative one. So maybe the Pacers can benefit as much from three days off as the banged up Knicks can, with an ability to use their rested starters for heavy minutes in Game 3 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
Time for OKC to go small?
Setting a minimum of 35 minutes played, the best lineup (offensively, *defensively and overall) of the postseason has been Oklahoma City’s small lineup of Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. This unit of two point guards, two scoring wings, and a versatile big has outscored its opponents by 46.5 points per 100 possessions and had its best run in Game 6 in Houston, outscoring the Rockets 31-20 in 14 minutes. It was a plus-7 in seven minutes of Game 1 against the bigger Grizzlies, but Scott Brooks didn’t use it at all in Game 2 on Tuesday.
If you remove Nick Collison and just look at the four smalls together, they’ve been just as effective (OffRtg: 130.2, DefRtg: 80.9, NetRtg: +49.3) in a slightly larger sample of 51 minutes (43 against Houston and eight against Memphis).
With Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder have other small-lineup options. And thus far against the Grizzlies, they’re a plus-13 in 14 minutes playing small. They’re a minus-17 in 82 minutes playing big and their starting lineup (Jackson, Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins has shot a brutal 13-for-47 (28 percent) in its 28 minutes together.
That, of course, will be something to keep an eye on as the series heads to Memphis for Saturday’s Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Small works in the other West series too Both Gregg Popovich and Mark Jackson changed their starting lineups for Game 2 in San Antonio on Wednesday, moves that worked out better for the Warriors. Their (small) lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut is a plus-17 in the series (plus-12 in Game 2), the second-best mark of the conference semifinals thus far.
It was a mini lineup of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw that pulled off the Spurs’ amazing comeback on Monday, racking up a plus-13 in 10 minutes over the fourth quarter and two overtimes. With Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter healthy, Popovich didn’t use that lineup at all in Game 2.
Supersubs in Chicago
Obviously, Wednesday’s blowout in Miami makes for some funky lineup numbers in that series, but the Bulls do have a lineup – Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah – that’s a plus-14 over the two games (plus-13 in 16 minutes in Game 1 and plus-1 in three minutes in Game 2). It was a plus-7 in 21 minutes in the first round and was a strong plus-20.3 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes in the regular season. If Kirk Hinrich and/or Luol Deng return for Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will be interesting to see how much time that lineup plays together going forward.
A change of fortune in Miami The Heat had a killer lineup – Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh – that Erik Spoelstra used rather sparingly (only 112 minutes), but outscored its opponents by 30.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. That lineup was a plus-12 in 10 minutes in the first round against Milwaukee, but is a minus-13 in six minutes in the conference semis, having allowed the Bulls to shoot 6-for-9 (3-for-3 from 3-point range) in the closing minutes of Game 1.
Offensive struggles in New York The best offensive lineup in the regular season (minimum 200 minutes) was the Knicks’ lineup of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, which scored 119.3 points per 100 possessions in 269 minutes together. With Kidd, Smith and Anthony all struggling, that unit has scored just 86.6 points per 100 possessions in 18 playoff minutes, and has been even worse defensively.
Who’s your favorite playoff underdog, the Warriors or Bulls?
Steve Aschburner: The Bulls. Being based in Chicago, I’ve seen this team more than any other — and most of the time, it is overcoming some injury, mishap, illness or absence. It’s no longer just a Tom Thibodeau phenomenon, their coach stubbornly and without excuse driving them through adversity. It’s the whole team manning up without Derrick Rose, without Kirk Hinrich, without whomever, and new guys without much track record for grit (Marco Belinelli) or selflessness (Nate Robinson) pulling on the same rope as if they’d been in that locker room for years. From Game 7 in Brooklyn to their Game 1 on Miami’s court, the underdog Bulls already have experienced a level of exhilaration and accomplishment that talented, three-star championship teams never know.
Fran Blinebury: You love these “Which of your children do you like best?” questions. Let’s face it. While we can admire and respect the work ethic, the attitude and the intensity of the Bulls, what little kid ever grew up in the backyard or on a schoolyard fantasizing about grinding out possessions and getting bloody fighting for rebounds? In the game of our dreams, it’s all about being Steph Curry hitting ridiculous, unbelievable shots from anywhere on the court, Jarrett Jack being utterly fearless, Klay Thompson getting it done at both ends and everything being played at warp speed. I’d be happy to watch the Warriors play into June, July, August or September.
Joakim Noah (by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)
Jeff Caplan: No question it’s the Bulls. Hey, I love the Warriors just like everybody else, but they’re essentially a young, healthy team (Brandon Rush was lost at the start of the season) on the come and led by an emerging superstar. They’re a great feel-good story, but the Bulls have proven time and again to be the ultimate warriors. How in the world is this banged-up and depleted club, one that keeps absorbing blows — a spinal tap gone wrong for Luol Deng, I mean, WTH? — in the second round and up 1-nil on the champs. Because nobody outworks the Bulls. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’llgo Golden State, even with the running start of Bulls 1-0 and Warriors 0-1. Chicago is pretty special at dealing with, or even ignoring, adversity, but is still bigger underdogs than Golden State. The Warriors are closer to the Spurs in talent level, have the hottest hand of the postseason (Stephen Curry) and are doing fine at ignoring as well. The Warriors had more of a chance from the start. One game doesn’t change that, for either option.
John Schuhmann: Well, the Bulls are the true underdog, aren’t they? They’re facing the defending champs, the world’s best player, and a team that had lost just two of its previous 43 games before Monday. They’re a M.A.S.H. unit of injuries and illnesses. They’re carried offensively by a guy who’s barely taller than Sekou. Their best (active) player has a ponytail, wears le coq sportif shoes, and shoots a jumper like he’s playing paper football. And they have the most disheveled-looking coach in the league! This is no contest.
Sekou Smith: This is a tough one. It’s like asking who do you like better, Miss America or Miss Universe. You’re right no matter who or what you choose. I love the Warriors’ style and the fact that Steph Curry can turn a game upside down in minutes with his scoring and shooting. But my pick is the Bulls. Any team capable of doing the things they’ve done, under these circumstances, has earned my attention and the favorite status. Tom Thibodeau has turned the bottom third of his roster into a wicked playoff machine over the the past five days. They’re doing it with defense, fueled by the relentless Joakim Noah and the surprising Jimmy Butler. But they’ve also got the best fourth quarter scorer in the playoffs (Nate Robinson) driving the bus late in games. How can you not love what the Black-and-Blue Bulls are doing?
Lang Whitaker: The Warriors are obviously fun to watch, but it’s hard to root against the Bulls. They’ve got more guys missing than they have healthy, or at least it feels that way. Also, the Bulls have a cast of characters who we’ve seen try and fail with other franchises, from Nate Robinson to Marco Belinelli, so it feels as though there’s some great quest for redemption. Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coach, Tom Thibodeau, looks like he’s being played by the King of Queens, Kevin James.
MIAMI – The Chicago Bulls were healthier and, back then, had the NBA’s newly named Most Valuable Player on their side. The Miami Heat were still a relative work in progress, talented and scary but also sorting and sifting near the end of Big 3, volume 1.
The Bulls whupped that crew by 21 points in the opener of the 2011 Eastern Conference championship series, held the home-court edge and looked for a couple days as if they were headed for the Finals.
Ahem. The Heat won the next four games, the first two by double digits each, the next in overtime, the last with a 19-4 rush over the final 3:36 to win by three.
The Miami team of postseason 2013 is more dangerous and highly evolved, with the league’s best player at the peak of his powers. Chicago is missing three guys (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich) from its preferred eight- or nine-man rotation. So there really shouldn’t be a problem, should there?
Yes, the Heat dropped the opener of the teams’ East semifinals series Monday. But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest have trailed in five of the 10 playoff series they have played since coming together in the summer of 2010. But they have roared back four times – three times last spring against Indiana, Boston and Oklahoma City. Only against Dallas in 2011 did they slip behind (3-2) and stay behind.
That should alleviate any hand-wringing about the here and now, right?
“We’ve been there,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our experiences have taught us a lot of things, but that does nothing for us right now. We have to fight for our playoff lives.”
The challenge for the Heat on Tuesday, practicing in advance of Game 2, was to find the right line between unruffled and overreacting. Some considered the Bulls’ 93-86 Game 1 victory a wake-up call, a shock to their system, a shot across the Miami guys’ bows. Others felt the Heat played well, that too much was made of James’ facilitating first half (just two points scored) and that extreme adjustments would be the biggest mistake the defending champions could make at this point.
“When you lose a game, your ears seem to work better,” said forward Shane Battier of the team’s mood in practice. “You seem more open for adjustments and you see to tune up the effort a little more in the next game.”
Said James: “We executed, we missed shots, we had good looks. … It ain’t about X’s and O’s in this series. It’s about the will and determination to win the series. For both teams.”
That didn’t stop Spoelstra from immersing the Heat in a lengthy video session. But what it confirmed again and again was that they got a lot of good, even open shots that they simply did not knock down. By James count, six of Battier’s seven 3-pointers were wide open, as were three of Mike Miller‘s four. Combined they made only three of those 11.
That had more to do with the outcome in James’ view than his alleged lack of aggression. He scored 22 of his 24 points after halftime.
“My shooters have gotten us to this point. They’ve made shots over the season,” James said. “I’ve got trust in them. We still had a chance to win the game, no matter what I was doing in the first half or not.
Spoelstra, James and the others did see some breakdowns offensively in the game’s final minutes and an unacceptable brand of defense (35 points allowed) in the fourth quarter. When James and Wade attacked the rim, they looked more interested in avoiding Bulls center Joakim Noah as a shot-blocker than they did in forcing the issue physically. As a result, James got the foul line less often than his defender, Jimmy Butler and Wade didn’t shoot a free throw at all.
Still, Wade said, “There were a lot of encouraging things throughout the game. That was the kind of game where you’re not playing as good as you want to be, but good teams find a way to grind it out and get the win.”
Chicago played harder and got rewarded. The Bulls, if they’re smart, will remain on the run because they have manpower issues and a roster stretched thin by injuries. Hinrich (calf bruise) still was limping after their team meeting Tuesday at their downtown Miami hotel and said he’d had only marginal improvement from rest and treatment.
Deng (spinal tap complications) still was in Chicago, posting on social media a photo of himself in his hospital bed that was a mystery to some in the Bulls’ camp (was that taken during Game 7 vs. Brooklyn? Or Game 1 Monday?) The best option with the All-Star forward would seem to be patience until Game 3 at United Center or later. As for Rose, that remains a “no,” with the faintest hint of “you’re-kidding-right?”
So the Bulls will try to remain a moving target, with the Heat likely to challenge Noah, attack Butler and pressure Nate Robinson more. Obviously, they don’t want to be satisfied with getting one of two at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We’ve played this team a lot so we know their tendencies pretty well. But every game of thes playoff series is chess,”Noah said. “We’re going to go back to the film room, see the things that we could have done better. … it almost becomes like you know their sets before they even run them.
“We’ve been in this situation before where we won Game 1 .We were all very, very excited about it. And they ran us over.”
The best fourth quarter scorer in these playoffs, Robinson served the Heat by scoring the final seven of his game-high 27 points (he also had nine assists) in the defining minutes of the game. He did all this after needing 10 stitches to close a gash over his lip, courtesy of a LeBron James elbow and head smash during a scramble for a loose ball.
“Get stitched up and continue to battle,” Robinson told reporters after the game.
LeBron’s already snagged the “King” nickname. But after watching Robinson the past eight games (and, really, the past eight seasons), is there any doubt that he’s the pound-for-pound king of toughness in the NBA?
Yes, that’s high praise for a third-string point guard. And Robinson remains one of the more unpredictable players in the league. His highs, though, trump his lows every time. Tell me the last time a third-string point guard outdueled the MVP on the night he received his trophy? Robinson became the NBA’s first three-time Sprite Slam Dunk champ and built a cult fanbase from New York (where he spent his first four and half seasons in the league) to Boston to the Bay Area and now Chicago and beyond.
Nowhere is Robinson more beloved than in his native Seattle, where he was the big man on campus at Ranier Beach High School, where he was a three-sport (football and track, too) star. Unlike many of his NBA colleagues who love to fantasize about being crossover stars in the NFL, Robinson could have pulled it off.
He was a All-Pac-10 Freshman Team pick at cornerback at the University of Washington, where his father, Jacque Robinson, was a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl MVP. Nate Robinson was believed to have a much brighter future in that sport.
But he chose basketball instead and the rest is pound-for-pound history for a player who says he’s having the time of his life with this Bulls team.
“There’s something special about this group,” Robinson said. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for, like, 10 years. I told [Bulls] Coach [Tom Thibodeau], we just love to play for each other.”
Hoops fans love having players with Robinson’s toughness on their team. That’s why he’s the king/captain of the Hang Time Pound-For-Pound Toughness Team. These are the guys still working in these playoffs who give up every ounce of what they’ve got on a nightly basis for their respective teams, be it blood, sweat, tissue, tears or whatever else is needed.
The other starters:
David West, Indiana Pacers
6-foot-9, 250 pounds
An absolute bruiser, West changed the entire culture of an organization in Indiana with his reserved-but-unwavering leadership style. The Pacers have become the picture of defensive toughness and consistency since West arrived. West is a physical specimen who has found a way harness his brute strength and play under complete control at all times. He’s a huge reason why the Pacers are up 1-0 on the New York Knicks in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
6-foot-7, 220 pounds
Another reserve who has moved into a starring role during this postseason, all Butler has done is play every single minute in three straight playoff games (Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 against the Heat). That’s 48 straight minutes for three straight games while guarding the likes of the Nets’ Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With his tireless work on both ends of the floor, Butler has done a masterful job filling in for Luol Deng while also showing the sort of mettle of a future star.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
7-foot-1, 265 pounds
The Memphis branch of the Gasol basketball family tree is much sturdier than the Los Angeles version in every way imaginable. Pau Gasol has always been considered the most skilled big man in the family. But the toughest Gasol, the recently crowd Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, does his home work near Beale Street. He’s got it all … brains, brawn and he can ball.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
6-foot-4, 214 pounds
A defensive stopper everywhere he’s been, Allen’s junkyard dog attitude inspired the Grit and Grind movement in Memphis (where you could fill out a Pound-For-Pound roster with the likes of Zach Randolph and others). Allen’s greatest trait is his fearlessness, which was on full display during the Boston Celtics’ title run in 2008 and has been as identifiable as his No. 9 jersey is since he joined the Grizzlies three seasons ago.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls; Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks; Chris Andersen, Miami Heat.