First, the expected: Thursday nights matchup between the Bulls and the Heat came down to the wireat least in regulationas the Bulls, propelled by a stellar performance by the Bench Mob, displayed their trademark selflessness, balance and resiliency to defeat the Heat, 96-86 in an overtime thriller at the United Center.
Now, the unexpected: Derrick Rose, back from a one-game hiatus due to a sprained ankle, sat for the bulk of the exciting finish while enduring a career-worst night and watching his understudy, C.J. Watson play the hero, as the backup point guard played marvelously throughout the contest, including hitting a three-pointer to send the game into the extra session with 2.2 seconds left.
As they wont to do, the Bulls started the contest playing catch-up, in a 6-0 holewith Miamis All-Star trio of LeBron James (30 points, six rebounds, five assists), Dwyane Wade (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Chris Bosh (20 points, eight rebounds) each scoring a bucketto begin the game before a Rip Hamilton fast-break jumper opened scoring for the hosts.
While the Heat utilized balanced scoring to build an early cushion, the Bulls relied on Carlos Boozer (19 points, 11 rebounds) to be their offensive catalystthe starting backcourt of Rose (career-low two points, 1-for-13 shooting) and Rip Hamilton both struggled in the early goingand the much-maligned power forward delivered as a scorer, rebounding force and displayed his underrated passing ability with a touch pass to Joakim Noah for a dunk.
Boozer aside, however, the Bulls struggled mightily from the field, not to mention having ball-security issues, which allowed the athletic visitors to get out in transition, complementing their half-court efficiency and quick start shooting the ball.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, perhaps searching for a solution to his squads slow-start blues, changed his rotation and went with the Bench Mobincluding All-Star Luol Deng (16 points, five rebounds), a starter who regularly plays with the second unitearlier than usual and the adjustment worked, as a quick individual spurt from Watson (16 points, nine assists) got the home team back into the game, closing within 22-19 at the conclusion of the opening period.
The reserves continued to build momentum, first tying the Heat, then surpassing them early in the second quarter, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (17 points, 5-for-6 three-point shooting), who replaced Deng, got the hot hand, knocking down a pair of triples.
Of course, the majority of that Bulls push occurred against Miamis second unit, but even after Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reinserted his regulars, of the Big Three, only Bosh had a major impact, as James was uneven, mixing the sublime with the subpar, while Wade, a Chicago native, didnt make much of a dent.
The hosts held on to their slight edge, but the visitors star power eventually came into play, as Wade and James, in particular, turned it up and with Rose scoreless, the Heat built their own cushion toward the end of the period, as the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic offensive droughts at the wrong time.
At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 41-36.
After the break, the Bulls cold shootingnot only from the field, but also the charity stripe, a more frequent issue as of latecontinued and following an initial spurt at the outset of the third quarter, the Heat again got into an offensive rhythm, enabling them to maintain comfortable separation from the home team.
Of the Bulls starters, Boozer was able to maintain his productivity, mostly via mid-range jumpers, but his peers continued to have accuracy issues, though Rose finally got on the board with a jumper at the 7:01 mark of the period.
Thibodeau made adjustments, however, utilizing a semi-Bench Mob lineupstarting wings Deng and Hamilton were paired with Watson and reserve big men Taj Gibson (11 points, five rebounds) and Omer Asikand the strategy worked, as the Bulls erased a double-digit deficit to climb back into the contest.
Watsons dogged defensehe drew back-to-back offensive fouls on Heat point-guard counterpart Mario Chalmersand the perimeter marksmanship of Hamilton and Deng, along with typically stellar interior defense from Asik and Gibson allowed the Bulls to narrow the gap to 62-60 heading into the final stanza.
Thibodeau stuck with the effective unit to start the fourth quarterresulting in a Miami shot-clock violation to start the period, following a defensive stand to end the previous frameand it proved to beneficial, as the combination of hustle plays, offensive rebounding, a stout defensive effort, a solid floor game from Watson and Deng taking an aggressive scoring approach ended up with the Bulls seizing the lead from their guests.
Korvers outside shooting, Gibsons energetic play on both ends, as well as a defense that put the clamps on the Heatthough the aforementioned superstar trio scored timely baskets to hang aroundbuoyed the hosts, supported by their raucous fans, but as the game entered its stretch run, Thibodeau exchanged the floor generalship of Watson for Rose, who had been sitting for over a quarter of play.
Wade, back in his hometown, raised his level of play in the clutch, scoring five consecutive baskets to help the Heat close to within 81-80 with 1:20 remaining, leading to a Bulls timeout, after which Rose, suffering through a miserable outing, missed on a drive, on which there was some degree of contact, if not enough for a foul to be called.
On the subsequent possession, James drained a corner three-pointer following an offensive rebound, giving Miami an 83-81 advantage with 49.3 seconds left.
After a timeout, Thibodeau went back to Watson, but after a failed Bulls possession and a jump ballrookie swingman Jimmy Butler, seeing his first action of the night, tied up Heat big man Ronny Turiaf and the visitors won the tipJames was fouled and split a pair of attempts from the charity stripe.
On the ensuing possession, Watson knocked down a triple to tie the game at 84 apiece with 2.2 seconds to go in regulation and after a Miami timeout, Wade missed a jumper to win the game, sending the contest into overtime.
The hosts were shot out of a cannon in the extra session, as Deng buried a jumper to open the scoring, followed by an Asik block and a thunderous Gibson fast-break dunk, plus the foul, then the completion of the traditional three-point play.
Notable was the fact that both Rose and Noahwho hadnt seen the floor since midway through the third quarter and would only return after Gibson fouled outwere both sitting, but it didnt make a difference, as Thibodeaus adjustments were paying off in the form of the games momentum and the lead, as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year mostly rode the play of the Bench Mob, with Deng also in the game and offense-for-defense substitutions when necessary.
Watson continued to come through in the clutch, hitting timely shots and running the show to perfection, while Asiks interior presence and Gibsons energy and ever-increasing skill level stymied the Heat, which was reflected in the Bulls comfortable cushion, which grew to double digits when Korver splashed a three from the top of the key to make it 96-86 with 1:02 left.
That score would be the final, as the guests waved the white flag when it became evident that it just wasnt their night, with a rematch looming in Miami next week.