Bulls 101, Heat 97
The Bulls came out firing, jumping out to an 11-2 start in the game's opening minutes, causing an Erik Spoelstra timeout at just the 9:02 mark of the opening quarter. Obviously, the rest of the game would not continue this way, but it was encouraging to see the Bulls come out strong, hitting some shots and getting to loose balls.
Carlos Boozer was in on the early hot start, helping to extend the lead to 13-2 with an offensive rebound and a solid conversion from about 10-12 feet. Unfortunately, a quick pair of LeBron threes cut the lead down to 13-9.
However, with some more hard work on the offensive glass, Boozer forced Udonis Haslem into his third foul of the game, just 5:15 into the contest.
The Bulls were putting on a beautiful display of spacing and ball movement early on in the game, supplemented by some opportunistic defense at the other end. Chicago was shooting very well early and cleaning up some of its misses; although the glass half empty thought would be "this won't continue," again, at least it happened at all.
Deng nailed another trey near the 4:00 minute mark, and the game was starting to remind me of the Bulls' two trips to Madison Square Garden this season.
Thanks to a pair of absurd Nate Robinson floaters near the end of the quarter, the Bulls entered the second up 32-22 despite 13 first quarter points for LeBron. Then again, the Heat aren't necessarily new to being down early in games as of late, so the Bulls could not afford to ease off even a tiny bit.
Fortunately, they didn't in the second, keeping their double digit lead for most of the quarter. Nate did his decidely Nate thing, and various other Bulls pitched in on the offensive end. Boozer had some trouble finishing around the basket in the first half on a couple of different occasions, but he otherwise had himself a nice half, going 5/10 from the field for 10 points.
The Bulls outworked and outplayed the Heat in the first half, dishing out 15 assists to Miami's five. A staunch defensive effort on a Chris Bosh shot attempt in the closing seconds of the half sent the two teams into the break, the Bulls up 55-46. Something something end the streak something something.
In the third, the Heat drew closer, this time down just five, 57-52, less than three minutes in. It felt very close to gut check time for the Bulls, who could have begun to fold once Miami threatened to tie it up.
Nazr Mohammed should come in for praise here, as he hit the Bull's first jumper of the half in addition to picking up an offensive board and a defensive one that drew Haslem's fourth foul. No, starting a 35-year-old Nazr Mohammed will never be ideal, but he has been sneakily effective at times. Like Kurt Thomas of the Knicks, sometimes that old man game is better than you think.
Despite a highlight reel alley oop from Deng to Butler, dunking over a hapless Bosh, the Bulls went into the final frame up just 69-68. On the bright side, after 13 points in the first quarter, the Bulls held LeBron to just 11 in the second and third combined. Progress! Also, despite a 1/10 start from the field in the third, it is nice that the Bulls were not only still in the game but up one, no less.
The Bulls would need to continue being physical in the paint and not allowing Miami any easy buckets, whether in transition or the half court. Regardless, entering the fourth in the upper 60s is a win for the Bulls, who simply cannot keep up given the state of the active lineup.
A 6-0 run by the Bulls, capped by Birdman derping an open dunk and Butler finishing over him at the other end, gave Chicago some breathing room. Still, it was difficult not to hope for the lead to grow a decent bit before the final four of five minutes, as we've seen the Bulls collapse down the stretch due to a lack of playmakers vis-a-vis the opponent.
An aggressive take by Hinrich in transition gave the Bulls a 80-73 lead with six minutes or so to go, a make sandwiched by two Deng treys. It was a somewhat lethargic third quarter, but the Bulls' outside shooting was coming to life at the right time. Now, it was all about getting stops.
LeBron baited Hinrich into driving past him on three consecutive (I believe) possessions, leading to three straight blocks and a lot of consternation. STOP DRIVING KIRK AHHHH. Well, with just over two minutes to go, Kirk drove, found on the wrap around pass at the baseline, who then swished it to give Chicago a 94-85 lead with 2:18 to go.
A pair of Miami buckets cut the lead to just five with over a minute to go, which might as well not have been a lead at all with LeBron looking to go into heroball mode after the flagrant foul situation with Boozer several minutes earlier.
Big buckets from Boozer and Robinson essentially sealed up the win for the Bulls, sending the Heat into foul mode.
The Heat entered the United Center and lost tonight for the first time since Feb. 1. It seemed unlikely after the Heat tied it up in the third, but the Bulls continued to fight and scratch and do all the things people scoff at because of irony and Internet sarcasm.
The Bulls have notched some solid wins against some solid teams this season, but this one, without the service of Noah, Belinelli, Rose and Hamilton, easily comes in as the best victory of the year. Obviously, a Bulls team with all those guys is a completely different squad, and it's difficult to extrapolate based on this game how they'd do at full strength, but...either way, it's hard not to get excited after wins like this.
An excellent performance from Deng, Butler, and, yes, Boozer, powered the Bulls to victory while short-handed against a team on an insanely prolific streak. Who knows how the rest of the season will unfold, but tonight was one of a select few regular season games that will be remembered for years to come.