MIAMI—Before his team’s 93-79 loss Sunday night at American Airlines Arena, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau summed up the mentality necessary to defeat the Heat: “The thing to me is that they’re the defending champion, two-time champions. So everyone’s chasing them. Until someone can knock them off, that’s what you’re shooting for. It’s a great team. They’re hard-playing, they play smart, they play together. Very well coached. So we’ve got to be ready.”
Readiness wasn’t a problem for the Bulls, as they played Miami even in the first half of the game. But after halftime, it was a different story, as the Heat went on an 11-0 run to build a comfortable double-digit cushion and never looked back.
Even without LeBron James in the lineup—the reigning MVP missed the contest after suffering a broken nose in Miami’s win Thursday night over Oklahoma City—the Bulls didn’t play with the same intensity they usually do against their rival. Their 35.8-percent shooting from the field was problematic, as were seven shot-clock violations. but most significant was their defense not being up to par in the third quarter, though Thibodeau believed some of that was a byproduct of offensive frustrations.
“The first half, I thought the defense was good and I thought the ball movement was good. I think we were 4-for-10 from the three and then we missed some open threes, and I thought that really hurt us. And then, right at the end of the third, I think they went 10-0, then they got the cushion and then we struggled,” Thibodeau said. “I thought we had a shot in the fourth and I think we’ve got to be tougher when things aren’t going well. When you’re missing shots, you can’t allow that to take away from your intensity. You have to play for 48 minutes. There’s a lot of other things that you can do to help your team win. But I think the second half, they ended up with 53 points and you’re not going to win on the road like that. I thought we held on to the ball. You can’t do that. You’ve got to make quick decisions, so those are things we have to correct.
“Yeah, they [the Heat’s defense] are good. Well, that’s why you’ve got to move the ball. I thought we got in trouble when we started dancing and holding the ball, and when you do that, you’re not going to be effective. And part of it is when you have the good ball movement and you’re missing open shots, and you miss the open three, you don’t always have to take the three either. As long as you’re putting them in a long close-out, you have the opportunity to drive it, to post it. You have to get that balance. We give them credit. I thought they played hard in the second half and they made threes,” the coach went on to explain. “It’s not necessarily that because there were several [possessions] where there was good ball movement and then the ball was held.”
Taj Gibson had another stellar outing, going for 18 points and 10 rebounds, but the sixth man admitted that the Bulls had an uncharacteristic performance, especially in light of the way they had been playing during their now-ended five-game winning streak.
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“With that team you’ve got to be real crisp. You got to know what you want to do ahead of time, and a couple times we held the ball, including myself, and let the defense set up. Against that team you can’t really hold the ball,” he said. “I thought the defense was there. We were neck and neck. They made a little quick run, our shots weren’t going down for us. We had good looks, especially the baseline jump shots, but today our jumpers weren’t clicking, and once jumpers weren’t clicking our defense kind of lapsed up. It was rough.”
“They’re good, real good. They just got hot on a couple shots, a lot of contested twos that we could live with, but the defense was there for them the entire game,” Gibson added. “They take away your strong suit. They pack the pain, especially in the post. They front a lot. But the main thing is their guards are real smart as far as just getting in there. One time I thought I had the rim to myself and DWade just came out of nowhere. They’re real crafty.”
But Gibson refused to say that James’ absence might have led to the Bulls not playing with the same passion they usually display against the two-time defending champions.
“It doesn’t matter if LeBron is out or in. That team is a good team. That team has other player other than LeBron. They got Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade. People seem to forget that they were All-Stars, too. That bench is deep. We still played as if LeBron played. We didn’t shy away. We understand that’s a championship team,” he explained. “We just didn’t regroup the right way in the second half and they made a lot of big-time shots.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds on the afternoon, was visibly irked about how the manner in which the Bulls lost.
“I don’t care about missed shots. When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be high the whole time. To me, that’s what disappointing. We play the Heat, I mean those guys ended our seasons a lot. You gotta hate playing these guys. Every time we play them, our intensity has to be high. We did it in spurts. It wasn’t good the whole time. And that’s what’s disappointing,” he said. “I’m frustrated about the game right now. I feel we could’ve definitely played a lot better. When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 regardless if shots are going in or not. It has to be bigger. Of course you want to win the game but the way we’re going to win is our edge and intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game.
“We definitely have to learn from this. Mentally, our approach wasn’t where it needed to be. We let frustration get to us. You have to move on. Your mentality has to be next play throughout the game because it just keeps going. You can’t let one mistake lead to other mistakes, especially against a team that talented.”