We’ve seen this movie before: A short-handed team, facing adversity, is tasked with playing a supposed juggernaut and put together an inspired, team-oriented contest, coming out with the win in the end — which is exactly what happened Thursday night, as the Bulls (8-9) completely dominated the Heat (14-5) from start to finish, winning a 107-87 affair at the United Center in their best game since Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury.
Two LeBron James (21 points, five rebounds) transition baskets weren’t the ideal way to begin the contest for the Bulls, but they quickly elevated their level of intensity behind the energy and rebounding of All-Star center Joakim Noah (17 points, 15 rebounds), out to his best start since Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury, and the unexpected offensive firepower of veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich (13 points, seven assists).
Getting contributions from a variety of sources, including an aggressive Carlos Boozer (game-high 27 points, nine rebounds), another player who had been struggling of late, the Bulls were able to build a slim edge and after a three-pointer from All-Star small forward Luol Deng (20 points, five rebounds, five assists) in the waning seconds of the opening period, they held a 29-20 advantage through a quarter of play.
Taj Gibson (19 points, six rebounds), the Bulls’ top reserve, made an impact at the outset of the second frame, as has been his habit this season, helping to build a comfortable double-digit lead. As a whole, the Bulls’ second unit fared well, extending the team’s advantage, while the regulars rested and even the likes of embattled second-year point guard Marquis Teague, only two days removed from being assigned and recalled from the D-League, played solid.
Only James could do any significant damage for the two-time defending-champion Heat and the Bulls didn’t let up, as Boozer and Noah continued to dominate on the interior — they held a 27-9 rebounding advantage and shot 55.6 percent from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range after making five consecutive attempts to begin the contest — resulting in a 58-44 lead at the intermission, despite a Miami push just before the end of the first half.
After the break, the Bulls’ onslaught resumed, as they built a huge margin of separation in the third quarter, as the trio of Boozer, Deng and Hinrich — the latter picked up a technical foul for retaliating to Heat backup point guard Norris Cole’s flagrant foul against him — carried the scoring burden in the period, with Gibson and rookie swingman Tony Snell also chipping in. Defensively, smothering defense, keyed by Noah, limited the Heat’s potent attack for the majority of the frame and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls led, 85-63.
Although the likes of Miami reserves Cole and Michael Beasley did their best to spark the Heat, the Bulls never let them get within striking distance, as Noah’s energy, the all-around play of Deng and the polished post-up game of Gibson, whose scoring carried over to the fourth quarter, were simply too much to overcome.
Even the Bulls’ free-throw shooting, which was decidedly mediocre to start the contest, was remedied by its conclusion and the hope is that so is the team’s recent run of losing, which was at seven of eight games entering the evening, dating back to the ill-fated “Circus Trip,” prior to Rose’s injury. But after a triumphant win like this one, in which Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau emptied his undermanned bench, it’s safe to say that the collective malaise the team had experienced is a thing of the past, avenging their season-opening defeat at Miami in the process.