Monday, May 13, 2013

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game Four, Bulls-Heat: Running on Empty, Not a Station For Miles

Chicago Bulls 65, Miami Heat 88--Heat lead series 3-1

On the heels of another dramatic contest ultimately ending in a loss--albeit much closer than the disaster that was Game Two--the Bulls limped into Game Four needing a win; otherwise, Game Five would likely be nothing more than a prolonged death knell for this 2012-13 season. 

Unfortunately for the Bulls, Miami jumped out to an early 13-4 lead, as the Bulls started off ice cold, going 2-for-13 from the field. Luol Deng was deemed "active" for the game, the latest stretch of what it means for one to be "active." If Deng could be described as "active," in spite of all the news of his post-spinal tap complications, then those of us who are otherwise healthy are superheroes, according to the relativistic continuum of NBA player health designations. 

And yet, despite a first quarter in which the Bulls shot 27% and the Heat shot 59%, they somehow managed to enter the second frame down just 21-15. As we have come to know very well this season, the Bulls have turned the execution of the "awful quarter that ends with being down by only that much" into an art form, insofar as such a thing can be considered art. 

Marco Belinelli was called for his third foul early in the second, meaning that Rip Hamilton would enter the game for the first time since his three-minute showing in Game Six against Brooklyn. Whether he was in the "dog house" or not, it has gotten to the point that Hamilton entering the game is just one more sign of the dire times for the Bulls, personnel-wise. 

Following a nice extra pass from Nate Robinson on the wing, Hamilton hit an open trey from up top, and on the following possession, Taj Gibson went up strong at the basket, completing a traditional three-point play. In short order, the Bulls had cut the lead, which had ballooned to 13, to seven, and the United Center crowd exhibited its first sign of life. 

This ephemeral momentum was quickly snuffed out, as LeBron returned from a brief trip to the bench to send home a theatrical thunderdunk after a Bulls turnover. 

Luckily, the Heat were not particularly careful with the ball, committing eight turnovers with several minutes still remaining in the first half. On the other hand, the Bulls were not able to capitalize, and continued to remain down by 7-12 points. Excluding their 6-for-6 mark from the line, the Bulls had produced just 21 points through 21 minutes of play. A point a minute is good if you're Fielding Yost, but isn't necessarily a sustainable basketball strategy (unless you happen to play in the Big Ten). 

It was not a well-played half for either team, but a poorly played half for the Bulls is a far different concept than the same from the Heat. As such, the Bulls took an 11-point deficit into the second half. Chicago shot just 27%, scoring at a clip of just 0.79 points per possession. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Eastern Conference Semifinals Game One, Bulls-Heat: Welcome to Miami


Chicago Bulls 93, Miami Heat 86--Bulls leads series 1-0 (!)

After improbably pulling off a Game Seven victory in Brooklyn Saturday night, the Bulls enter the Eastern Conference Semifinal round playing with house money. With Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng both out again, in addition to Derrick Rose's continued absence, expectations are not exactly what they were the last time these two teams squared off in the playoffs. 

Nonetheless, the Bulls have played the Heat close, even without Derrick Rose, having split four regular season meetings this season. Of course, the playoffs are a different animal, especially with the Heat being well-rested after easily dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks in four, and the Bulls grinding their way through seven trying games against Brooklyn. With this in mind, an enveloping fog of unease pervaded upon the lead-up to Game One, and rightfully so; there are no moral victories in sports, but if the Bulls managed to keep the first game of this series close, then maybe the vague notion of a competitive series could become a reality. 

The Bulls gained possession on the opening tip, but neither squad was able to get on the scoreboard in their respective opening trips on the offensive end, starting a combined 0-for-5 from the field. A nice move to the rim from Noah put the Bulls on the board first, however, at the 10:15 mark. Jimmy Butler extended the lead to 4-0 from the line after drawing a blocking call just outside of the restricted area. 

Neither team was exceptionally sharp in the opening minutes, but given each team's opening round, this was perhaps not unexpected. The Heat continued to misfire from the field, starting the game 0-for-7 from the field as the Bulls built an early 8-2 lead. 

Despite the auspicious start, Nate Robinson began this one 0-for-4 from the field with some questionable feeds to Chicago's big men; this would have to change if the Bulls were going to make this any sort of game. On the bright side, it was a quiet, low usage quarter for Lebron James, who was 1-for-2 from the field for two points well into the first frame. James seemed content to facilitate in the early stages, but Jimmy Butler was also doing his part in forcing that decision-making. 

Norris Cole countered a quintessentially Nate spin move into a banked jumper with a buzzer-beating floater of his own, and the Bulls took a 21-15 lead into the second quarter. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 6, Bulls-Nets: I Have A Bad Feeling About This

Chicago Bulls 92, Brooklyn Nets 95

I wasn't able to take notes during the first half of this one, so I'll just go ahead and skip right to the second half (this is the NBA after all, so that's probably a fair thing to do every time). 

Nonetheless, the Bulls, again with Kirk Hinrich, have up a whopping 60 first half points, with Deron Williams scoring 14 on 5-for-9 from the field. For all of the criticism Hinrich took throughout the system--some warranted, but most of it not--it's pretty well obvious by this point that the Bulls were going to have a rough go of it without him on the defensive end. Every defensive set begins with on-the-ball defense, and when you don't have your most effective player executing that role, the rest of the defense will struggle. 

The Bulls took a 60-54 deficit into the second half, which reminded me of the Michigan-Kansas game for the simple fact that it felt as if the Brooklyn lead could and probably should have been much greater than it was. 

To make matters worse, the Bulls were also without the services of Luol Deng, so it was encouraging to see them drop 54 in the first half. Still, the second half would be a struggle to keep up and continue to find enough production to stay with the Nets. 

Nate Robinson buried a trey to open the second half, cutting the lead to three, but the Nets quickly built it back up to eight in the ensuing minutes. 

Later in transition, Robinson attacked the rim and dished to an open Marco Belinelli in the corner, who nailed the three to cut the Nets lead to 69-68. Luckily for the Bulls, it wasn't an exceptionally well-played quarter for either team, but Chicago made enough plays on the defensive end to keep the game from getting away from them before the final frame.