MIAMI Prior to his teams first rematch with the Heat (15-5) since the Eastern Conference Finals, Bulls (17-5) head coach Tom Thibodeau proclaimed, Last year was last year. This year is this year. This is the most important game to us because its the next game.
While that might be technically true, Sundays 97-93 final score, in favor of Miami, provided no solace to Chicago, who hoped for revenge and instead received the same outcome theyve had to remember since May.
Thats the way it is, a glum Thibodeau plainly stated afterwards. Derrick was Derrick, attacking. A hard-fought game, in position to win at the end. We didnt get it done.
Rose (34 points on 11-for-28 shooting, 12-for-14 from the free-throw line, six rebounds, six assists) may have been pressing too hard in the early going in an attempt to change what looked like a sluggish start offensively.
Already short-handed, two early fouls on Rose didnt bode well for the Bulls, something Thibodeau likely realized, as he mercifully reinserted Rose in place of an overmatched John Lucas III, playing the backup point guard role with C.J. Watson sidelined.
An aerial display shortly ensued for the Heat, as LeBron James (35 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) went high above the rim for a couple of crowd-pleasing finishes, as part of a spurt to give the home team some breathing room.
Chris Bosh (24 points, 12 rebounds) played a large part in Miami jumping out to their early edge, but the Bulls quickly closed the gap, by virtue of Rose making an impact via aggressive drives upon his return, as well as Joakim Noah (11 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) playing strong inside and the subtle, yet effective stylings of Rip Hamilton (11 points on 4-for-16 shooting), a game-time decision.
Having weathered the mid-afternoon storm on a less than sunny South Florida day, the visitors trailed, 24-22, at the conclusion of the opening period.
Were a team where we dont let up. Even though were down, were still going to play hard, said Rose. We still have a lot of confidence in ourselves when were down.
Foul trouble and surprisingly, defensive lapses continued to bedevil the Bulls, as both starting power forward Carlos Boozer (10 points, nine rebounds) and understudy Taj Gibson were each saddled with a pair of fouls, adding fuel to the fire that came in the form of a 9-2 Miami run to start the second quarter.
Thibodeau, who had previously alluded to being interested in playing zone defense, actually went to the tactic in an effort to limit the Heats potent driving ability, best exemplified by diminutive rookie reserve point guard Norris Cole and All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade (15 points on 4-for-16 shooting), who dished out six first-half assists.
Sandwiched around a a big baseline flush by Gibson were two treys from reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who was previously mired in a slump, to slice into the double-digit deficit and get the Bulls within striking distance of their hosts.
Though the guests to a raucous American Airlines Arena had missed several easy bunnies around the rim, they had furthered decreased the amount of separation to go into the break trailing, 56-51.
Chicago continued to chip away at Miamis lead after the intermission, although a Heat flurry, featuring Wade punishing the rim in transition twice in a row after consecutive Bulls offensive miscues, briefly dulled the visitors momentum.
You turn the ball over against them, live ball, noted Thibodeau. Theyre going to be in the open floor and theyre going to make you pay.
It remained a close-knit affair, however, as the combination of Rose, utilizing his deadly floater, and Noahs confidence and high activity on the offensive end, were countered by the duo of James and Wade.
Despite the Bulls nipping at the Heats heels for the entire period a key for Chicago was Gibson subbing for Boozer upon the starter obtaining his fourth foul, as the third-year backups ability to guard perimeter players, even elite ones like James, was of great benefit they couldnt even things up, as blown opportunities to convert took their toll in a game where easy chances were hard to come by. A James jumper at the third-quarter buzzer gave Miami a 76-71 advantage heading into the final stanza.
James beat the buzzer yet again early in the fourth quarter, knocking down an impossibly deep triple at the end of the shot clock, drawing Thibodeaus ire and leading to a timeout. But the Bulls regrouped and eventually tied the contest at 84 apiece, following a tough Rose the point guards blend of scoring and playmaking had carried his team driving and spinning layup.
The whole game, we had opportunities to get over the hump, but we couldnt get over the hump. We never put them back on their heels, so when we made a run, they made a run. When they made a run, we made a run. If you know anything about the NBA, its all about a game of runs. We had the opportunityit was 84-84they came down and hit two shots in a row. It happens, explained Hamilton. Games like this happen. Its the NBA. Its a roller-coaster ride. Youre going to have your ups, youre going to have your downs, so you just pretty much have to have an even keel with it. A game like this, that happened tonight, from a fans standpoint, people have probably seen it time after time after time.
They would get no closer. As the game entered its stretch run, tensions ran high Noah and Wade received double technicals for a near-skirmish, broken up by Noahs fellow ex-Florida Gator, Heat power forward Udonis Haslem but Miami handled the emotions of the made-for-TV matchup better, as Wade delivered in the clutch to fuel a 7-0 run and James, like in last springs Eastern Conference Finals, was assigned to defend the smaller Rose.
Still, the Bulls refused to die and Boozer, saddled with five fouls, finished in the lane with 1:16 remaining (after repeated squandered missed shots at the rim), followed by Rose converting a three-point play in transition to make it 94-93 with 49.1 seconds left.
Weve been down in those situations in the fourth quarter a lot, Rose observed. We know that we can come back, but we never want to put ourselves in that position.
After James failed to finish a tough layup with contact, Rose pushed it coast-to-coast and was eventually fouled with 22.7 seconds on the clock, but the normally-unflappable star missed both free throws. Amazingly, after James was fouled with 17.6 seconds to go disqualifying Noah he too, missed a pair of attempts from the charity stripe and after the scramble on the rebound, an inadvertent whistle with 16.8 seconds to play resulted in a jump ball at midcourt.
James and Gibson were designated for the jump ball and the Heat recovered it, leading to point guard Mario Chalmers splitting a pair of foul shots with 13.6 seconds remaining. After yet another hectic sequence, the Bulls corralled the rebound and then called a timeout with 9.9 seconds left in the game.
On the final possession, Rose was forced to throw up a tough shot in the lane that was off the mark, Bosh ended up with the carom and was fouled, leading to the final margin.
The way the game unfolded, they kept getting up six points, eight, 10, wed tie it up. It happened over and over. I thought we had good resolve, kept fighting. Things didnt go our way at the end, said Thibodeau. Every game, whether you win or lose, I think its important to understand why. Hopefully you learn, move forward, strive for improvement and when we leave here, weve got to be thinking about Washington. Its a quick turnaround.
Added Hamilton: We had many opportunities, but like we always say, It doesnt come down to the last possession. They missed two, we missed two, so it was a lot of little things. It was kind of a freak game, but we expect it. I think they expected it, too. It was a hard-fought game from both teams and they got a win.
Not just against this team, but any team really, the last couple of minutes are big. They had opportunities, we had opportunities and we thought we had a chance, but the ball didnt go our way and thats the NBA for you, he continued. You try to win every game, every time step on the floor, regardless of who you play. They want to win and we want to win. They got the win tonight.