It may have been the fact that the Miami Heat were rusty after not playing a game for the past seven days or it might have been the Chicago Bulls’ tough defense; whatever the case may be, the Bulls sent a clear message to the Miami Heat with their victory in game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Bulls’ defense was on display early in the first quarter. Entering the series versus the Heat, the key for the Bulls was whether or not the team would be able to possess the same type of physical defense that the team successfully implemented against Heat during the regular season. The Bulls answered that question relatively quickly as the team held the Heat to 15 points in the first quarter and had the lead 21-15.
The Heat made up the difference in the second quarter by outscoring the Bulls 22-16. The teams entered halftime with the score tied at 37. For the Bulls, that in itself was a victory. Though as was the Bulls’ flaw against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, the team had to not let up in the second half.
In the third quarter, the Heat continued to have the scoring advantage over the Bulls. The Heat outscored the Bulls 25-21 in the third quarter and had a 62-58 lead over the Bulls in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter is where the Bulls’ returned to their defensive mindset. The Bulls outscored the Miami 35-24 in the fourth quarter and sealed a 93-86 victory over the Miami Heat in game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It was on defense that the Bulls’ limited what the Heat were allowed to do offensively. LeBron James (24 points) and Dwayne Wade (14 points) were the only Heat players to score in double digits. Despite James’ point total, the league MVP had +/- of -10. Both Chris Bosh and Ray Allen struggled offensively as Bosh was 3-10 shooting while Allen was 2-7.
Bulls’ small forward Jimmy Butler is growing before our eyes. After playing the entire game in games 6 and 7 against the Nets, Butler once again played all 48 minutes for the Bulls in game 1 against the Heat. Butler totaled a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Butler was not the only Bull to have a double-double as Joakim Noah scored 13 points while gathering 11 rebounds. Nate Robinson was the top scorer with 27 points.
This game is bound to be over-analyzed by the media types. While it certainly is surprising that the Bulls took game 1 of their series with the Heat, don’t pencil the team in the Eastern Conference finals just yet. Having said that, the Bulls–who were walking wounded with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich not available–sent the message they will not be overlooked in this series.