Tonight was supposed to be another celebratory night for the Miami Heat. Lebron James the best player on the team, on the planet won his 4th MVP award in 5 years (Only other player to do that Bill Russell) putting him in a class of athletes that call the Hall of Fame home. None of that mattered to the bruised up, and ailing Chicago Bulls who came into south beach following their game 7 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Questions loomed over the Bulls chances vs the MVP & his team. How would the Bulls hold up after coming off of a full 7 game series? How would they do without the likes of Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng (already missing Derrick Rose)? They answered all of those in convincing fashion defeating the Miami Heat 93-86.
At the start it looked like a true defensive battle to begin with. Both teams struggled to shoot the basketball at a consistent pace, and at one point in the 1st half combined for 8-29 shooting, and 0-9 from beyond the arc. We saw struggles from beyond the arc with the Heat sharp shooters Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mike Miller & Mario Chalmers who finished a combined 4-17 from three.
The Heat coming off of a 8 day resting period after sweeping the Bucks could use the "rust" excuse for all the missed shots (many of them wide open). However head coach Erick Spoelstra would have none of that: "There's no excuses. We're not making any excuses for time off or anything like that. Give them credit."
In the first half both teams continued inconsistent play on offense, while locking each other up on defense. Ending the first half tied 37-37, and having the MVP in Lebron James finish the half with 2 points (lowest points in a half in his playoff career). Chicago's front court of Joakim Noah (13 pts, 11 rebs, 1 blk) , Carlos Boozer (6 pts, 7 rebs) who faced early foul trouble, and bench warrior Taj Gibson (12 pts,& 4 rebs) did their jobs in the paint making offensive possessions very difficult for the Heat. Noah's rebounding was big time throughout the game providing much needed second chance opportunities.
The stars for the Bulls however were on the perimeter in Jimmy Butler (21 pts, 14 rebs), and Nate Robinson (27 pts, 9 ast). Butler was all over the court playing great defense primarily on Dwyane Wade (14 pts, 7-16 shooting), and getting to the lanes to create free throw opportunities (9-10 FT). Tonight was the third straight game that Butler has played every last minute. And perhaps opening more eyes Nate Robinson had a sensational 4th QTR & second half scoring the last 24 pts for the Bulls, and hitting a clutch jumper over Mario Chalmers with :45 secs left in the 4th that essentially helped them pull away from the Heat.
Before giving up the lead the Heat seemed to find a groove towards the later stretch of the game. Despite his dreadful offensive first half of only 2 points, Lebron James (24 pts, 7 ast, 8 rebs) put on a show getting to the basket with ease, converting three point plays, and controlling the tempo of the game. However Lebron, and the Heat became complacent in the 4th putting them in the worst position to be in during the playoffs. Down, with less than a minute to go. In that time period we saw two bone headed plays from the Miami's biggest stars: An ill-advised Dwyane Wade 3-pter, and a Lebron James airball layup. If your the Heat this needs to be addressed, and taken care of in preparation for Game 2.
Going into Game 2 it's a must win for the defending champs. The Bulls have had their number this season, and it is essential they even this series up before it heads to Chicago. It's going to be interesting to see how Lebron & Co. respond to this pressure seeing as how winning it all last season seemed to dim it down quite a bit. Look for another physical, and tight game as the Heat look to even things up vs this resilent Bulls team.
Game 2 of the Miami Heat vs the Chicago Bulls will be Wednesday, May 8th at 7:00 pm. Broadcasted on the TNT network.