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The Miami Heat took a 2-1 series advantage against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night for plenty of reasons, among them their defensive adjustment on Bulls center Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter. Sebastian Pruiti, an occasional contributor to SB Nation, breaks down the adjustment with still images and video at NBA Playbook.
It may seem odd that Miami’s altering its coverage of Noah, averaging 6.3 points per game on 29.6 percent shooting, may be the biggest factor in swinging the series in its favor. However, the Heat weren’t worried about Noah as a scorer, but as a passer. Facilitating from the high post is among Noah’s specialties, and he picked apart Miami’s defense for six assists prior to the fourth quarter because, as Pruiti points out, the Heat’s defense rotated over to him a he popped to the top of the key on the pick-and-roll, leaving another Bull open. In the fourth, the Heat didn’t rotate to Noah, affording him plenty of open space and challenging him to instead create off the dribble for himself.
As one might expect, the lanky 6-foot-11 center struggled to get to the rim from 18 feet out, and didn’t get any quality shot attempts.
The Bulls thus wasted a fine performance from Carlos Boozer, and unless coach Tom Thibodeau can find a way to leverage the Heat’s leaving Noah open against themselves, it would appear they’ve lost one of the few ways they’ve managed to succeed offensively in this series. Chicago’s shot just 39.8 percent from the floor, and 46 percent from within the restricted area, against Miami. They need to find something else offensively, or their season may end in disappointment.
The Miami Heat, particularly Chris Bosh, beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night. His 34 points were a career Playoff high for him. The Bulls had trouble defending him (and the rest of the Heat for that matter) in the post, and their own difficulty finishing in the painted area in the other end. According to Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun Times Derrick Rose isn't ready to chalk up this and the last loss to any nervousness he or the team might be feeling.
‘‘There’s no more jitters,’’ Rose added. ‘‘Guys know what they have to do on the court to get the job done. It’s like a fight out there. We’re both trying to do something special. We have two good teams, and we’re both trying to win.’’
Saying that the Bulls have to stop Chris Bosh is one thing, but actually doing it is another. The Bulls couldn't stop him all night long, and Carlos Boozer thinks it might because of the attention that the defense has been paying to the Heat's other two stars.
‘‘They’re a good team,’’ Boozer said. ‘‘They’re here for a reason. We have to do a better job on their other guys. It’s tough when you put so much attention on LeBron and D-Wade. But we have to be able to help and recover.’’
And that's the rub; when you stop LeBron, you still have to deal with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. If somehow you are able to stop any two of them at a time, than the third can always beat you. If you had said before this game that LeBron and Wade would be held relatively in check, you would have liked the Bulls' chances to win. But who could have seen this game coming from Bosh? The truth is that any one of the big three on the Heat could beat the Bulls on any given night. Tonight, it just happened to be Chris Bosh's turn.
After looking so good in the first game of the series, the Bulls have looked pretty flat overall in the last two. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has a few suggestions for them as to how they can get back to playing winning basketball.
For the Bulls to recover Tuesday and even the series at 2 games apiece they have to defend the post better and rediscover the lost art of ball movement. For them to win the series, they need Rose to resemble Rose more than he has his past two disappointing games that have sucked the enthusiasm out of the Bulls' postseason.
It might seem obvious, but sometimes the best solutions are. With a team that has LeBron and Wade on it, you can't let Chris Bosh of all people beat you. And the Bulls have the league MVP, not the Heat. Rose needs to show them, and himself, why he earned the hardware this year.
You can hear everything that the Bulls and the Heat had to say after the game in this press conference video at NBA.com.
In the immortal words of Scooby Doo, "ruh roh".
For the first time this postseason, the Bulls were beaten by the better team on Sunday night, a sobering and humbling moment for a team that was a runaway train in the regular season and the superior, if not dominant, team in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
LeBron James facilitated the offense for Miami with 22 points, ten assists, six rebounds and no turnovers, and Chris Bosh surpassed his career-best performance in Game 1 with 34 points on 13-18 shooting. Miami was efficient on offense in a way that the Bulls cannot be on most nights, shooting almost 52% from the floor and committing only ten turnovers.That is the benefit of having three players who can create offense where the Bulls only have one.
Derrick Rose performed better than he did in Game 2, finishing with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, but the Heat once again ratcheted up their interior defense and kept him from getting easy buckets in the half court game. Despite regaining the overall rebounding advantage 41 to 33, including 15 offensive rebounds, the Bulls struggled to score inside as a team once again, finishing 2-16 on shots of three to nine feet.
Carlos Boozer was the biggest culprit on shots missed inside, but looking at the box score you'd have to be pleased with his 26-point, 17-rebound performance. Unfortunately Boozer was plagued once again by poor defensive decisions and missed lay-ins, all the more disheartening because this is the best we should expect of him on any given night. To win this series, the Bulls need Boozer to outperform Bosh on a regular basis and up to this point, Bosh has been the better player going away. Meanwhile Taj Gibson had 11 points in 12 minutes and made an immediate impact on the defensive end. The Bulls will need both players before it is all said and done, but Gibson deserves more than 12 minutes of floor time at this point. He has been arguably the Bulls most consistent two-way threat through three games.
Joakim Noah had the toughest game of all, though. Noah did have six assists on a night when the Bulls only had 15 overall, but had only one point and one offensive rebound. He looked frustrated throughout the game on both ends, getting a couple of tough fouls called on him and feeling like he wasn't getting the same calls on the other end. If the Bulls are to win this series, if they are going to meet the challenge the Miami Heat have issued, Noah will need to show up big before it is all over.
The bench unit had a great stint in the second quarter, actually eating into the Heat lead when Boozer entered the game to provide a scoring punch. However Omer Asik left the game in the 3rd quarter after coming down on Rose's foot after a rebound attempt. Asik looked like he was favoring the ankle and after heading into the tunnel was unable to return. If he misses any period of time the Bulls will really miss him on defense and screens. All the more reason that Noah will need to step his game up further to secure Chicago's next win.
This one was a bit disheartening, as Miami controlled the tempo on both ends for the most part and their big time players created offense while the Bulls struggled to get anything going consistently. That said, Miami protected their home court for one game. If Chicago can find a way to steal Game 4 then they can go back to the United Center with the series tied. And as a final note, I am personally fining the next Bull who goes for a Dwyane Wade pump fake. He has earned no less than six free points in every game off of a move Chicago has seen on film a trillion times.
For the first time in their last 44 games, the Bulls have lost two straight. And for the first time this season, their backs are now truly up against the wall. Chicago needs a split in Miami to regain home court advantage. I for one am fascinated to see how Rose, Deng, and the rest of the team respond on Tuesday night with their season on the brink. These are the moments that separate the champions from the also-rans. It's time to find out what this year's team really is.
Tom Thibodeau knows what all good leaders know: stay on message. If you watched a Thibodeau press conference this year, you heard one if not all of the following:
"We're gonna walk through the fire together."
"Luol Deng is the glue of the team, he's a great leader."
"Derrick was Derrick."
"We played poor defense for x amount of time."
But most often is that win or lose, Thibodeau always talks about learning from the previous game and getting ready for the next.
"We'll look at the film and make the corrections."
Those corrections have defined this series so far, each team having punched and then counter-punched through it's first two rounds. Game 3 tips off at 7:30 Central on TNT, and it will be Thibodeau's turn in the on-court chess match between he and Erik Spoelstra, one that pulled Udonis Haslem out of the wayback machine just in the nick of time for the Heat in Game 2. Haslem wasn't an elite player before his supposedly season-ending foot injury, but he is exactly what the Heat were missing and it has magnified his importance. I say Carlos Boozer should have to guard him, not only because they match up well, but also so there's no turf toe excuse if Boozer is meh once again.
Game 2 was the offensive clunker that the Bulls have had once every so often this year. This time they shot 34% (61% FT), finishing with 75 points three days after lighting up the Heat for 100. And credit Miami for their adjustments defensively because the Bulls looked like the just-ousted Atlanta Hawks at times offensively. Even so, Derrick Rose, Boozer and the rest of the Bulls missed a heap of shots they would normally make (okay fine, shots that Rose would normally make), going 3-18 from 3 to 9 feet and 0-5 from 10 to 15 feet. An outlier to be sure, but not the only reason the series is now tied.
After being out-schemed in Game 1, Spoestra made corrections of his own that got both Dwyane Wade and Lebron James to the rim, using Chris Bosh as more of a decoy after his strong Game 1 performance. Haslem's added presence and 13 points off the bench were a difference-maker, and the Bulls couldn't muster points when they had to. Heading into Miami -- whose arena should be sponsored by Hanes by now after giving away white t-shirts at every home playoff game -- the Bulls will need to make the shots they normally do, but also make some key changes on both ends of the court.
Offensively, the Bulls inside-out game was often shut down, as the Heat closed down the lane for Rose and kept Boozer quiet, albeit only figuratively. The offense stagnated on the perimeter, and the Bulls just don't have the horses to be an iso-team against Lebron and Wade. If Chicago is going to win Game 3 on the road, it will need a big interior presence from Boozer and Joakim Noah. Noah hit a few shots early on but struggled to be the rebounding force we've come to expect. As he's part of the patented Bulls' Triangle of Victory along with Rose and Deng, his performance will be paramount on Sunday night.
On the defensive end, Kyle Korver was a big-time liability, as Spoelstra called whomever he was guarding up to screen for Lebron, who in turn used Korver to get in Deng's way on the screen and roll action. If Korver can't find the touch early on Sunday night, he may be hard to keep on the floor. Personally, I think Ronnie Brewer should be playing starter's minutes against the Heat. He's a tough defender, can finish above the rim and has played some of his best ball against Miami this year.
First and foremost though the Bulls must regain their advantage on the boards, after Miami won that battle for the first time in five games and, not coincidentally, won their first game as well. Chicago will seldom be as efficient offensively as the Heat will, and must dominate the glass to even the scales.
The Bulls have gone 44 games without back to back losses this season, the longest streak in the NBA this year. If you'd like to know why, head over to the Berto Center and visit Thibodeau. He'll be in his office, making corrections.