Quantcast 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls

 

2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 - Miami 96, Chicago 85 – Heat lead series, 2-1

 

On Sunday night at American Airlines Arena in Miami, a 180-degree shift unfolded in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. It’s a shift that has affirmed the developments of the past two weeks.

The last time the Miami Heat hosted the Chicago Bulls, roughly three fourths of the regular season had elapsed. The most scrutinized team in the NBA had not showed any consistent ability to close down games. Chris Bosh, the third wheel on the Heat’s “Big Three,” was a tissue-soft player at that time. The Bulls went into Miami and defeated the Heat to complete a three-game sweep of the regular-season series. When Chicago nudged the home team after trailing by a double-digit margin in the first half, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra openly acknowledged that crying took place in his team’s postgame locker room. The Heat, on that day, became something more than a villain; they became a national punching bag, a laughingstock, an object of not just hatred, but ridicule. It was hard to imagine on that Sunday afternoon in South Beach that the Heat were going to be able to last very long in the cutthroat crucible of the playoffs.

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My, how far the Heat have come in two and a half months. Welcoming the Bulls back to the beach, Miami revealed its new self, the identity that was forged during the five-game dismissal of the Boston Celtics and remained intact last Wednesday in Game 2 of this series. If there were any worries that coming home would hijack the Heat’s focus, or that the three-day layoff before Game 3 was going to take away the rhythm Miami had established in recent weeks, those concerns were summarily dispelled. The Heat took the lead in this series and set up a Game 4 clash on Tuesday that the Bulls will almost certainly have to win.

They did so by showing all the things they lacked in the final stages of winter, when the Heat were cold and the Bulls could do no wrong.

Two and a half months ago, when the Bulls traveled to Miami, the Heat did not sell out at the defensive end of the floor. In Game 3, they once again double-teamed Chicago superstar Derrick Rose to great effect, limiting the league MVP to a modest 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting. Yes, Chicago forward Carlos Boozer delivered his best game of the playoffs with a stellar 26-point, 17-rebound effort, but since Chicago’s supporting cast was straitjacketed for most of the night, the Bulls didn’t find enough points up and down their roster. Luol Deng produced a late-third-quarter flurry that helped him score 14 points, while Taj Gibson, continuously able to knock down mid-range jumpers, posted 11 for the Bulls. However, Kyle Korver couldn’t get free behind the three-point line. Joakim Noah couldn’t finish plays near the tin, and a 13-5 offensive rebounding edge didn’t lead to a substantial advantage in terms of second-chance points. Miami’s ability to challenge shots near the basket, which was noticeably absent in the regular season, emerged in full relief on Sunday. Joel Anthony, who has been a key part of the Heat’s defensive improvement in the playoffs, blocked five shots and helped the Heat swat eight Chicago attempts while altering dozens more tries. Miami’s defense was and is the number one reason why this series is acquiring contours that are so different from the 82-game regular season.

 

 

What was also missing against Chicago in the regular season for Miami was an aggressive and fully dialed-in Bosh. On Sunday, he dominated, throwing down 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting. Bosh didn’t just deliver a huge number for the Heat on a night when teammate Dwyane Wade (17 points on 8-of-19 shooting) profoundly struggled. What was especially impressive about Bosh’s max-out game was his ability to hit nearly 70 percent of his field goals, most of them on 18-foot jumpers. Bosh’s scoring was accompanied by offensive efficiency. He didn’t need 30 shots to score 34 points – that’s a high-scoring night that leads to defeat. Because Bosh was so lethally consistent as a shooter, the Heat gained an offensive foothold in a defense-first battle that was fiercely contested on both sides for three and a half quarters.

Then, there was the finishing kick for the Heat. When Miami lost to Chicago in the wintertime, the Heat lacked a healthy Udonis Haslem. The tireless forward with an ability to stick a 15-foot jumper was instrumental to Miami’s Game 2 win, and after failing to make a meaningful impact in the first three quarters, it was Haslem who helped LeBron James finish off the Bulls. Haslem’s driving layup extended a tenuous four-point lead to six, at 80-74, with 6:24 to go. That play initiated a 9-0 run that LeBron finished with an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Heat an 87-74 advantage with 5:07 left. Chicago, true to its character, never stopped competing, but with the Miami lead down to seven at the 1:29 mark of regulation, it was Haslem who knocked down a 15-foot wing jumper to make sure the Bulls didn’t make things interesting in the final minute. Yes, LeBron was brilliant – in a quiet but real way – throwing down 22 points while handing out 10 assists without a turnover. Yet, the big story on this night was the amount of ingredients Miami brought to the table… ingredients that were not part of this team’s identity the last time it hosted the Bulls.

The Miami Heat are a hated team, but they’re playing very impressive basketball right now. It’s up to all the Chicago Bulls not named Derrick Rose to stand up and be counted on Tuesday night. Miami is receiving well-rounded contributions and is selling out at the defensive end of the floor. If Chicago can’t deliver its own all-hands-on-deck masterpiece in Game 4, the Heat will begin to realize how different they are from the early days of March.

 

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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer


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