MIAMI – However far the Miami Heat go in defending their championship and chasing down another one, they will take a piece of the Chicago Bulls with them.
Probably some blood spatter too.
If the Heat players don’t look back at some point in the next month and appreciate, reflect and build upon what it was they got from that undermanned Chicago team, they won’t just be ingrates. They’ll be ingrates gone fishin’.
A niggling bad habit of the Heat at various times this season showed itself again in all its unnerving glory in the middle two quartersof Game 5 Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
What started out as a cool and stylish South Beach club party got spoiled by a bunch of Chicago guys hogging the bar stools and throwing peanut shells on the floor. The Bulls outscored Miami 56-39 in those middle 24 minutes and … wait, that doesn’t quite capture what went on.
Try this instead: After digging themselves a 22-4 hole midway through the first quarter, the Bulls beat the Heat the rest of the night 87-72. Left for dead early, they sat up as surely as Michael Myers, spooking Miami with thoughts of what might have been.
“You give a team like this life, anything can happen,” said forward Chris Bosh. “It’s kind of like watching a horror movie or something, and it happens in slow-motion. You go to Chicago [for a Game 6], their crowd is waking back up again, they’re excited again and now you’re in a dogfight. They come back and win that game, now anything can happen in a Game 7.”
Anything nearly happened in Game 5.
Let’s face it, on talent and depth, the Bulls who ended this season would have been, over 82 games, a lottery team. No Derrick Rose, who went wire-to-wire in his knee surgery rehab, but no Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich over the final two weeks, either. Chicago still had All-Star center Joakim Noah and forward Carlos Boozer, but the remaining collection of role players and reserves were asked to do a little too much.
And still it worked. Oh, not overall. But often enough through Game 1, for stretches in Game 3 and over the final 41 minutes of Game 5 to grab the Heat’s attention. (more…)
MIAMI – Based on who they have, who they don’t and what their depleted roster might have left in a postseason that has lasted longer than they probably had a right to expect, the Chicago Bulls appear to have hit a wall.
Naturally, they’ll do what they have done before in such circumstances. They will peel themselves off it like Wile E. Coyote after the painted-tunnel trick, do an about-face and face the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their conference semifinals series (7 p.m ET, TNT). With their backs against that proverbial wall.
“All we’re thinking about is Game 5, first quarter. That’s it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said at his team’s morning shootaround. “You’ve got to go step by step. To me, it’s be ready for the first quarter. We understand what needs to be done. That’s all we’re focused in on. Not any of the what-if’s or any of that.”
Few teams, frankly, have more what-if’s about them than the Bulls, who again will face the NBA defending champions without forward Luol Deng, without guard Kirk Hinrich and, of course, without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. Deng – two weeks after suffering some severe flu symptoms as well as complications from a diagnostic spinal tap – did not even travel with the club for this one. Hinrich’s calf bruise, suffered in Game 4 of the first round, still prevents him from running or playing.
As for Rose, well, if he invests the way he rehabs from knee surgery, his risk aversion would have his millions all sitting in a checking account. That’s how conservative he’s been since having his torn left ACL repaired a year ago this week.
The Bulls still standing shoulder on. They are 2-5 in franchise playoff history in Game 5 when facing elimination, temporarily fending off Detroit in 2007 and Philadelphia in 2012. This Miami team, meanwhile, is 7-1 in the Big 3 era when it has a chance to close out the opposition.
“Whatever your circumstances are, you have to make the best of those circumstances,” Thibodeau said. “This team has dealt with adversity all year. We’ve had the unique ability to bounce back. That’s what I’m expecting us to do tonight.
“Emotion’s not going to win the game. Playing well, doing your job, getting it done, that’s what’s going to win the game.”
Said guard Nate Robinson: “Last game, we didn’t make shots. First game we played here, we played hard, we made shots. That’s what it’s about, getting stops and getting buckets.”
Robinson, the instant-offense backup thrust in Hinrich’s absence into Rose’s role, scored 27 points in Game 1, the Bulls’ surprise road victory of the series. Since then, with the full weight of Miami’s defense bearing down on him, he has shot 8-for-35, including 0-for-12 Monday.
Naturally, Robinson would like to see the Bulls get Carlos Boozer and Marco Belinelli going early to shift some of the Heat’s defensive focus to them. Maybe that could open some seams for him, for Jimmy Butler and for Joakim Noah.
Because as it is, that wall the Bulls have their backs against has been built in part by them, brick by brick. They’re shooting 37.6 percent in the series. Chicago has taken 12 more shots than the Heat (298-286) yet has 29 fewer field goals (112-141).
The free-throw situation is equally illuminating. For all the grumbling and physical play, the Bulls are 81-for-107 from the line and the Heat are 81-for-105.
The biggest question for Miami as Game 5 approached was guard Dwyane Wade‘s availability. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade, hobbled by a bruised right knee, did fine in shootaround but that his participation would be a game-time decision.
Miami did sit Wade from the series finale against Milwaukee in the first round, giving him what wound up as eight days of rest before this series began. If he sits out Game 5 Wednesday and Miami were to win, Wade would have at least until Monday – a full week after Game 4 – and possibly until Wednesday before the East finals begin.
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.
If there’s any player participating in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between Chicago and Miami who could afford to lose 15 pounds in a week, it might be the Heat’s Chris Andersen. And even then only if it was all ink.
Instead, it was Bulls forward Luol Deng reporting that sudden weight loss — just one of the ill effects of his battle first with illness and then with complications of a spinal-tap procedure performed last week to rule out viral meningitis. Deng, a two-time All-Star, has not played since Game 5 of the first round against Brooklyn, his condition worsening and requiring multiple trips to the hospital after his body was found to be leaking spinal fluid from the initial diagnostic procedure.
He underwent a “blood patch” treatment to stop the leak but told reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility in north suburban Chicago that he had lost 15 pounds and still was suffering from headaches as his body heals from the ordeal. As Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald reported:
Deng appears to be on the mend, but his body is low on spinal fluid, which surrounds and helps protect the brain. There’s really no telling when he might be able to play basketball again.
“I wish whatever you take out, you could put it back in,” Deng said. “It’s just your body’s got to make the fluid back up. I’m doing everything I can. I’m staying hydrated. The biggest thing is, really, eating. I’ve got to try to get my appetite back and eat as much as I can.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau called Deng’s status day-to-day, but there’s no chance he’ll play in Friday’s Game 3 against Miami at the United Center. After that, the teams will get two days off before Game 4 on Monday, and even that seems unlikely for a return.
Not having Deng – an all-purpose player on whom Thibodeau leans more even than a healthy Derrick Rose – is just one of Chicago’s manpower problems. Rose remains out — despite countless rumors, criticism and backlash defenses — from the knee injury he suffered April 28, 2012. Rose’s replacement, Kirk Hinrich, had a second MRI exam on the calf bruise that has sidelined him since Game 4 vs. the Nets.
Then there was forward Taj Gibson, who was waiting to hear if the NBA would further penalize him after his ejection from Game 2 at Miami Wednesday. Gibson probably will be fined for his profane outburst at referee Scott Foster and slow departure from the court but it’s possible the league could suspend him for a game.
The Bulls’ suffered the worst playoff setback in franchise history at AmericanAirlines Arena Wednesday, falling 115-78 as the defending champion Heat pulled even at 1-1 in the best-of-seven series.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dominique Wilkins is living life young hoop dreamers fantasize about. High school and college star, NBA superstar and eventually a Hall of Famer.
The Atlanta Hawks’ vice president of basketball joined us on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk about his journey as well as the path his Hawks are walking now as they embark upon a huge summer rebuilding project.
And he takes our advice and makes sure that Hawks GM Danny Ferry places a call to Phil Jackson (why not? Everyone else is calling the Zen Master these days), the Hawks could be on the cusp of the greatest stretch in franchise history. They’d have to pull off the stunner first, however, and actually get Jackson to take the call and even entertain the possibility of joining the Hawks in some capacity (which is longtime Hawks fan Lang Whitaker‘s hoops fantasy). And that would require some serious lobbying on the part of Rick Fox, who played on championship teams coached by Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep an eye on the playoffs and awards season and continue to debate which is more unpredictable. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers both won Game 1 on the road in their respective Eastern Conference semifinal series, while the Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 and the Golden State Warriors will attempt to match that feat tonight in San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). We discuss how big a deal the shakeup has been on LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (the top three vote-getters in the KIA NBA Most Valuable Player race).
We also got off into a heated debate about the merits of each candidate in the Coach of the Year race and whether George Karl’s runaway win makes sense with his team already gone fishing and other worthy candidates such as Tom Thibodeau, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Lionel Hollins and others still working this season. (Trust me, it gets plenty messy … especially when we try to rationalize Vinny Del Negro getting a first-place vote and finishing ahead of both Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks).
You get all of that and much more, right here on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast …
MIAMI – While much of the NBA still is in its introductory phase with the Chicago Bulls’ fresh small forward/shooting guard – meet Jimmy Butler – LeBron James and the rest of the Miami Heat have moved on to the next stage of a young player’s career.
That is, beat Jimmy Butler.
Butler, a second-year guy out of Marquette and the last player drafted in 2011′s first round, earned some serious individual acclaim for the Bulls’ team victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday. Matched up with the reigning MVP, Butler pestered James, stuck to him as much as possible and funneled him toward help defenders when he couldn’t. All if it contributed to a performance in which, yes, the Heat superstar eventually burst through for 15 points in the fourth quarter but was contained to just nine prior to that.
Butler did well at the other end, too, scoring 21 pints on 5-of-13 shooting and getting to the foul line 10 times, more than James (nine) and Dwyane Wade (zero) combined.
Oh, and he played every second of the Bulls’ 93-86 victory in the series opener, the third straight game – dating to Game 6 against Brooklyn in the first round – in which he has logged 48 minutes. So often, given his reputation and world-weary ways, Wade is the player who seems like the new “hardest working man in show business,” in need of some James Brown crew and robe to get helped to his feet. But lately, it’s been Wade’s fellow Marquette product in the J.B. role.
“To be able to play that many minutes in a row, obviously a lot of guys can’t do that and still be aggressive on the offensive end and defensively be able to guard different guards,” Wade said as Game 2 Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT) approached. “Obviously he has [something special]. That’s why Marquette chose him.”
Butler admitted he’s a little tuckered. But he added: “You learn to fight through it, when you do it so often. And it’s easy ’cause you have guys on your team that are in your corner when you are tired. You look at Lu [Deng], he does that 82 games. It’s definitely tough, but it’s all about your mental state. If you know in your mind that you can do it, your body will follow.” (more…)
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.