Bulls suffer worst playoff loss in franchise history

Bulls suffer worst playoff loss in franchise history
May 8, 2013, 8:30 pm
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MIAMI—The six technical fouls and two ejections only tell part of the story, but they symbolize exactly how unraveled the Bulls became Wednesday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat.

From the very beginning, it was clear that Miami was on a mission to avenge its shocking Game 1 loss and with league MVP LeBron James fully focused, All-Star sidekicks making contributions, significant bench help, absolutely stifling defense and a total domination of areas like the transition game, rebounding and points in the paint. The end result was an ugly 115-78 Bulls blowout defeat, tying the second-round series at one game apiece.

The contest had a sloppy, if predictable beginning—a hard foul on Nate Robinson (11 points) on the first possession, a technical foul issued to Chicago native Dwyane Wade (15 points) after being shoved into the basket stanchion in transition, a Joakim Noah (12 points) offensive foul—setting the tone for a physical, intense evening of basketball.

Noah was aggressive offensively from the outset of the affair, actively seeking out scoring opportunities, and while the Heat attempted to push the tempo and James (19 points, nine assists) was much more assertive in the first quarter than he was in the series opener, the Bulls took a slim edge.

But things quickly changed, as the visitors experienced ball-security issues, which yielded easy fast-break opportunities for the hosts—namely, James, who rocked the rim in transition and got the partisan crowd into the game—prompting a 7-0 Miami run and a Bulls timeout.

Jimmy Butler’s outside marksmanship helped keep the Bulls within striking distance, but James’ brilliant all-around play put the guests on the wrong end of a 25-20 score after the opening period, but not after double technicals on Noah and James after a brief scuffle at the end of the frame, followed by the latter making a spinning layup off the dribble at the buzzer for the home team.

Foul trouble was a concern for the Bulls early in the second quarter—Robinson picked up two in the first, while Butler did the same, which meant that he wouldn’t play all 48 minutes of the contest for a playoff record-setting fourth straight game—meaning they had to turn to their bench.

James continued to make an impact, but the story if the game was its chippy play, which resulted in technical fouls on Robinson and his replacement, rookie point guard Marquis Teague, as well as a flagrant on Heat backup center Chris Andersen, who seemed to be a catalyst for Miami’s antagonistic approach.

Meanwhile, the Bulls somehow managed to stay in the game initially, though the hosts briefly pushed their advantage to double digits, courtesy of a lift off the bench from veteran sharpshooter Ray Allen (21 points).

After weathering that storm, the Bulls were hit with another Heat spurt before the break, with Wade and reserve point guard Norris Cole (18 points) making big contributions, leading to a 55-41 deficit at the intermission.

Following the break, Miami extended its lead, as Wade and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh (13 points) took over more of the offensive load, while the Bulls experienced scoring issues, in sharp contrast to the Heat’s gaudy shooting numbers.

From points in the paint and fast-break opportunities to smothering pressure defense and winning the rebounding battle, the hosts thoroughly dominated their guests in all facets of the game, upping the margin of separation to over 20 points.

The contest evolved into a track meet, with the Heat running at every opportunity—from turnovers to defensive rebounds—and often converting at the other end, with an 11-0 spurt increasing the already-mounting pressure on the visitors.

Things got increasingly worse for the Bulls, who seemingly could get nothing to go correctly on either end of the floor, putting them on the wrong end of an 85-56 game heading into the final stanza, largely a product of their 34 percent shooting and Miami making 58 percent of its attempts, as well as the Heat’s complete domination of the transition game and the paint.

The fourth quarter started in inauspicious fashion for the Bulls, as Noah was ejected for garnering his second technical foul of the contest—from the bench, as he screamed at official Scott Foster—quickly followed by Gibson joining him in the locker room, as the normally mild-mannered big man was assessed back-to-back technicals by the same referee, then proceeded to verbally abuse him on his way off the court, all of which was witnessed by the NBA’s czar of discipline, Stu Jackson, who was at the game, making the timing even worse.

Meanwhile, on the floor, the Heat pushed their lead to nearly 50 points against the likes of seldom-used backup Vladimir Radmanovic and a makeshift lineup of reserves, along with lone starter Marco Belinelli (13 points), as Butler, Robinson and Carlos Boozer rested.

Radmanovic was actually a bright spot for the Bulls, helping ensure that the deficit didn’t reach historic proportions, but with any possible drama having passed, the home crowd left in waves, satisfied with its team’s performance in a game that featured nine total technical fouls and one flagrant.

Still, regardless of the lopsided outcome, like the Bulls’ Game 1 win, it was only one victory, with the series heading back to Chicago for Friday’s Game 3, though the Bulls will have to gather themselves and deliver a much better effort to prevent being steamrolled by what appeared to be a juggernaut.