Derrick Rose scored an efficient 28 points to go with six assists, and Luol Deng added 21 as the Bulls flat dominated the second half against the Heat to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 103-82.
Looking back over the myriad previews for this series, the Miami Heat were overwhelmingly chosen to beat the Bulls. As fun as it was to see Chicago clamp down on Miami and get offensive contributions up and down their roster, seeing an entire population of experts backpedal on Twitter was almost as fun.
To be fair the Bulls had not played their best so far this postseason, as the pressure of being the favorite got the better of this young team at times. Add to that Miami's domination on its way to this series, and it's not hard to see how the predictions came to pass. The thing is, the Bulls thrive as the underdog like no other team. And with the pressure of expectation off and a raucous home crowd behind them, it was time to "ball out" as Rose would say. After a first half that saw Chicago turn the ball over eight times, including four first-quarter giveaways by Rose, the Bulls settled down and began playing to their strengths against the Heat: rebounding, defense and bench production.
Chicago out-rebounded Miami 45-33, including 19 offensive rebounds, leading to nearly 30 second-chance points. All the Bulls bigs made huge contributions on the glass: Joakim Noah was an energizer, finishing with nine points and 14 rebounds, eight of them offensive. Carlos Boozer had great energy on the interior and played passable defense to notch 14 points and nine rebounds. And oh my word,Taj Gibson, who had the two greatest highlights of the night, first posterizing Wade at the end of the first half and then an over-the-head rebound-dunk to put the icing on the cake in the fourth:
As one of the people who questioned the selection when Chicago drafted Gibson 26th overall in the 2009 draft, I'm sorry, Taj. I take everything back, and those two dunks have earned you my undying love. Gibson finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocks, and his defense was a big part of why James and Wade combined for only 11 points in the second half.
James finished with 15 points and Wade had 18, both more than ten points below their postseason averages. After a season filled with derision and having his toughness questioned, Chris Bosh had very possibly the game of his life, finishing with 30 points and nine rebounds. Unfortunately for the Heat, he was the only other player who brought it for all four quarter, as Mario Chalmers had nine points, and perimeter scorers Mike Bibby and James Jones had four points a piece.
This was one of those games that really went the Bulls way offensively. Deng went 4-6 from distance, Rose hit 3-7 for three, including an end-of-half heave that fell short. Ronnie Brewer chipped in eight points which are all bonus points since he's in for his defense. Brewer has played well in all four games against Miami this season, and looked very much his pre-injury self tonight. Even C.J. Watson, who has looked totally overwhelmed in these playoffs, had four assists and zero turnovers, keeping the Bulls offense from bogging down when Rose was on the bench.
Still, to chalk everything up to a 121.2 offensive efficiency night isn't entirely fair. The Bulls were quicker to loose balls, more determined on the glass, and every player chipped in at one time or another. And ultimately, that's what it's going to take every night to beat the Miami Heat, who may have still been thinking about their "championship" second-round victory over the Boston Celtics.
Erik Spoelstra made the decision to take Jamaal Magloire out of mothballs and keep Zydrunas Ilgauskas in a suit, choosing to go with a small-ball lineup. For one night at least, the strategy backfired as the Bulls dominated the paint and created extra possessions in a game they were already converting at an eFG% of 49.4. That is a recipe for success if you're a Bulls fan, and something you'll hope to see every game in this series.
It is only one game, and one that should wake the Heat up to the challenge ahead. As good as the Bulls played, they will likely have to be even better on Wednesday night for Game 2