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.