Can a team have a good rebounding night the same way it can have a good shooting night? Is boxing out contagious? Can one get in a rhythm on the boards?
I found myself asking these questions after the Bulls unexpectedly crushed the Heat 103-82 in Game 1. The top-ranked rebounding team in the NBA in 2011 (+5.74 rebound differential) was good after all, but third-ranked Miami was no slouch either. Surely the Heat had just had an off night on the glass, the same an anything else.
Turns out, Miami hasn't been able to rebound yet against the Bulls, pulling down 30, 39, 30 and 33 in four tries despite averaging almost 43 per game this season. At some point, you have to say the Bulls have the Heat's number on the boards. Game 2, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. Central on TNT, may be the moment the scales tip.
None of this is a revelation, as Miami was never going to to out-rebound Chicago. but instead make up the difference with offensive efficiency and their fear-of-god transition game with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But if the Heat can't even get their Porsche out of the driveway, most nights the Bulls are going to win. Collecting 19 offensive rebounds is an insane statistic that happens in high school and a handful of college games, not on the professional level.
Granted, Lebron and especially Wade are going to come back with a vengeance Wednesday night, their pride wounded and their team in an early hole. If Taj Gibson really is a hardhat/lunchpail guy as Stacey King says, he better wear the hat out on the court because Wade is going to be looking for dunk revenge every time he's in the same area code. Wade's a Chicago guy, an NBA champion and the head of the Miami Heat snake. Lebron is the most talented player in the NBA, but Wade will be the one to watch out for. He was Derrick Rose before there was a Derrick Rose.
Beyond the rebounding differential, Chicago shot the lights out from behind the arc in Game 1, hitting 48% of their shots compared to their 36% average. Extra possessions are one thing, but when the Bulls are actually converting them at a solid rate? Good luck to you, sir.
Strategically, the biggest adjustments in a series usually come between Games 1 and 2, and this is no different. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has the added decision of figuring out who he'll dress, after activating Jamaal Magloire in Game 1 and leaving big men Erik Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the bench. As well as that gut move worked out, it would be surprising not to see either Dampier or Ilgauskas wearing warmups when the Heat come out of the tunnel next.
Coach Tom Thibodeau beat his counterpart almost as soundly as their respective teams did Sunday, using Gibson to negate the Heat's advantage whenever they went small, and debuting a Rose/Kyle Korver pick and roll in Game 1 that created open looks each time it was used. Spoelstra's (and of course his players') adjustments will be fun to watch, as these teams with equally opposite talents match up once again. Pick and roll defense will likely go under the screen again and dare Rose to shoot threes and long twos, hoping that he has an off night. More exciting to watch will be the balance the Heat strike between leaving men back to rebound and running off of misses. If Miami starts getting easy buckets on the break, Thiibodeau may have call off the dogs on the offensive glass and leave a big man back instead.
All of this strategy talk shouldn't diminish what the Bulls inner triangle of Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were able to do in the first game. The Bulls are hard to beat when all three have good games, and they had great ones on Sunday, to say nothing of Gibson, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer.
If the Bulls are going to win, they need to continue to own the glass, win the bench battle and keep James and Wade out of the paint. Miami will be dangerous if they start creating turnovers and converting easy buckets off of them.
Wade and James missed shots they normally make in Game 1, so expect their averages to return to the median and for the Bulls to face their fiercest challenge yet in these playoffs. The way they've looked their last two games, they may very well be up to the task. But make no mistake, the Bulls will have to earn this one.