Chicago Bulls' Taj Gibson dunks against the Miami Heat. (Photo: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The anointing of the Miami Heat as the NBA’s best team seemed inevitable after the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
To the disdain of many, Miami and it’s clandestinely put together Big Three were the favorites in the East and quite possibly the team to beat in the NBA finals.
Maybe we were premature. The Chicago Bulls, the No. 1 seed in the East, showed as much during Sunday night’s game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled away from the Heat in the second half for a stunning 103-82 win in Chicago.
If the Heat is the team to beat, then the Bulls are the squad that will do just that.
“We felt like we could compete against anybody,” said Bulls forward Joakim Noah. “This is just a really exciting situation right now. The position that we’re in is unbelievable.… Nobody believed that we could be in this position right now.”
But there are plenty of believers today after the way the up-and-coming Bulls dismantled a Heat team that was manufactured last summer with the purpose of not only winning it all this season but to create a dynasty for years to come.
It was expected the Heat wouldn’t have an answer for Chicago’s MVP point guard Derrick Rose, but what was surprising Sunday night was the defensive answers the Bulls put forth to slow two-thirds of the Big Three, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Bulls defensive specialist Luol Deng locked up James, limiting the one-time Cleveland Cavs front man to just 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Trust this will be an interesting matchup as the series progresses. James’ greatness will surely be tested.
Adding even more intrigue will be just how the Heat manages to keep up with a younger, faster, longer and deeper Bulls team. The Bulls seemed to get energy and production from almost every spot on the floor, including Carlos Boozer, Rose, Noah and Deng as they used a 10–0 run midway through the third quarter to distance themselves from frustrated Heat.
“You play defense. You play defense hard and the shot goes up and they get an offensive rebound, kick it out for a three or get a layup or a dunk,” James said. “Those are demoralizing for a defensive team. We’ve got to figure out a way to clean that up.”
Perhaps the most telling play of the night came early in the second quarter when Bulls reserve Taj Gibson threw down a thunderous two-handed slam on a fast break, posterizing Wade in the process.
Even Wade, who is accustomed to posterizing others, was impressed.
“That was a good one,” Wade said. “I really got punked. It was good. It was a very athletic play. I knew I didn’t have a chance. I was backpedaling when I saw him take off. He’s very athletic.”
But even more to the point, Gibson and the rest of the Bulls are far less impressed with Miami and its Big Three. Chicago dominated the Heat during the regular season (3–0) and looks poised to do so when it counts the most in these Eastern Conference finals.