The Bulls have dealt with adversity all season, fighting for playoff positioning without former MVP Derrick Rose and dealing with a myriad of injuries to key players. But when they square off tonight at home against the defending champs in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bulls will be looking to bounce back from internal frustrations that cost them dearly on Wednesday.
The Heat came out firing in Game 2 while the Bulls attempted to match it with a fiery attitude. A few questionable calls in the early minutes set the tone for what would be a frustrating night for Tom Thibodeau’s group. The Bulls’ franchise-worst 37-point loss, 115-78, included six technical fouls, two ejections -- Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the latter of whom was suspended $25,000 by the NBA for failing to leave the court in an orderly fashion -- and a handful of other scuffles over the course of the blowout. Miami, after losing homecourt advantage in the Game 1 loss, established their own toughness while the Bulls let their emotions get the best of them.
“By nature it’s physical, and the thing that I find humorous is the fact that people paint us to be the physical team,” Thibodeau said after this morning’s shootaround at the Berto Center. “And you look at the start of the game, and that’s usually what happens. You look at the games in which we’ve won against [Miami], the next game they come back and guys are flying all over the place. So this isn’t a one-way street, this is a two-way street. But we know how it’s gonna be called. We can’t let that impact us in any way, shape or form. Just get out there and get the job done. That’s what we have to do.”
Thibodeau wisely declined to comment on the officiating from Wednesday night, saying his team needed to perform better and play through whatever calls do or don’t go their way. With the Heat finding their rhythm -- the same rhythm that helped them win 66 games -- that could be a daunting task for a Bulls team missing Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich for the fifth straight game.
“I think when you face some adversity you’ve got to be mentally tough. But I think the same things go into winning. We’ve shown that we do have more than enough to win with, and when we do the things that are necessary to win, we put ourselves in a position to win,” Thibodeau said. “So that’s the important thing. It’s not magic, it’s just everyone going out, knowing what their job is and then doing their job.”
[RELATED: Rose, Deng Hinrich all ruled out for Game 3]
At the top of the list of areas for improvement is turnovers. On Wednesday the Bulls committed 17 of them, leading the fast-break-hungry Heat to score 28 points and 20 in transition. Every starter but Marco Belinelli committed at least two turnovers, with Nate Robinson committing four by himself. And of those 17 miscues, nine were live-ball steals by the Heat, a number Thibodeau said must improve.
“Live-ball turnovers are tough to recover from and that being said, we gave up too many points off our turnovers, which gave them the cushion and confidence that they needed,” he said. “And so that’s where we have to be better. Now we have to be a lot stronger with the ball. They rake at the ball, and again the ball movement is paramount.
“You have to analyze how they occur. Is it from holding on to the ball and doing too much one-on-one? I think sometimes you get in a hole and the intentions are good, but often times they can be misguided, particularly against this team. If you hold the ball and start dancing with it, you play into their hands. If you make quick decisions and you move the ball and you move their defense then you’ll have a chance to attack them, and so that’s what we have to do better.”
Thibodeau did not comment on whether he thought Game 3 would be called tightly, but any time James and Dwyane Wade enter the building, the answer is often apparent. But like the Bulls did in Game 1, Thibodeau said tonight will be won or lost in the same areas that pushed the Bulls to a first-round series win against Brooklyn.
“We just have to remain focused, everyone do their job, lock in and put all the things that go into winning, put that at the forefront,” he said. “Hustle plays, toughness plays, ball in the air, get in a fight. You’re gonna get hit, this is the playoffs. This is it. This is about will. This is about determination. This is about getting the job done.”