Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oh, You Magnificent Bulls

Tonight's Coach Tibs Simulation
The Miami Heat had home court advantage. A week of rest. A roster filled with healthy players. The back to back MVP, LeBron James, taking his trophy in front of a sold-out crowd.

The Bulls had about half of a healthy NBA roster right now. Shooting guard Jimmy Butler never leaves the floor. Joakim Noah has plantar fascitis. Luol Deng has complications from a spinal tap. Derrick Rose hasn't played this year.. Kirk Hinrich is out, which makes third-string point Nate Robinson, an NBA vagabond due to his lack of conscience and defensive issues because he's tiny, an every-night big minute player, whether he's helping you or not. Rip Hamilton's on the shelf. Marco Belinelli, another journeyman, plays huge minutes. They give burn to Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook, for heaven's sake. You will be forgiven for being amazed that either of those guys are still drawing a paycheck.

Then the game started. Miami led after three, though it was close. The Heat were 33-0 when holding a lead in this situation. And while Chicago was playing their usual inspired ball, and weathering the runs, watching the game made you wonder when LeBron James would just take over, as he's done so many times, especially since he wasn't carrying his team and exhausting himself in the first three quarters.

The fourth started. James scored six points in the first two minutes, the last one on a thunderous dunk off a loose ball, and the home team was up four. And then... Robinson, Butler and Noah all made plays to keep them close, only to get answered by James making back to back old-school threes for a 7-point lead with 6:30 left. Thanks for making it worth watching, Chicago. Now the Heat will show you out...

Or, well, not. Robinson and Butler both get to the line and made them all. Belinelli drained a three to tie it, and the lead was gone in 90 seconds. The teams traded plays and points for another two minutes, with James dishing to Chris Bosh for a dunk and Miami's last lead. James got another free throw to go to stretch the lead to 4 with 2:22 to go.

And then, in the last 142 seconds of game time, Chicago ripped off a 10-0 run to seize home court and make the world go... wow, really?

Credit where due. Noah's 13/11/4 was punctuated by dozens of small and useful plays, and despite his 5 fouls, he played 39 minutes and never lost his defensive effectiveness. Robinson did his Iverson 2000 impersonation again, destroying Ray Allen on a crossover (um, why was Allen on Robinson there?), and sparking the run. James and Dwyane Wade settled for jumpers and didn't make them, and well, when you get no separation for the first 46 minutes of a home game, you can't be too surprised when you don't win the last two minutes. Bulls 93, Heat 86, and there's every real sense that we have a series after all.

And, well, so long as this Wade is on the floor -- the 7 of 16 guy with, shockingly, no free throws -- the Heat can be had. James wound up with 24/8/7, which is to say, something akin to his usual. Chris Anderson was invisible after being incredibly effective for much of his run in Miami. The shooter armada of Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller combined to go 5 for 17 from the floor, and 3 for 13 from the arc. Chicago didn't steal this game; they seized it. So long as you aren't wearing Heat gear, all of that probably makes you smile.

Having said all of that, it's still a stretch to see them winning three of the next six games; the Heat had rust issues tonight, and there has to be, at some point, breakage on the ludicrously short rotation the Bulls are running out there right now. Why James and Wade didn't just do their usual ref-bait penetration and fall routine against this thin club, I'll never know; anything that gets Noah off the floor means you win. But the Bulls are now 3-2 against the Heat this year, and Miami has to win in Chicago to advance. Things just got a lot more interesting than anyone, outside of Chicago, expected...

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