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.