Bulls go ice cold in second half, fall to Heat

Bulls go ice cold in second half, fall to Heat
February 23, 2014, 5:00 pm
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MIAMI—Even the absence of LeBron James couldn’t help the Bulls (29-26) in their Sunday-afternoon matchup with the Heat (40-14), as a lack of offensive firepower, coming just one game after their season-high scoring output, led to the end of their five-game winning streak after a 93-79 defeat at the hands of their rival at the American Airlines Arena.

Without Jimmy Butler out of the lineup due to a rib injury suffered in Friday night’s home win over Denver, the Bulls turned to rookie swingman Tony Snell, coming off a career-high scoring outing, and the team didn’t miss a beat. The Bulls used balanced scoring to gradually erase a slim Heat advantage and seize a the lead as the opening period went on.

James missed the contest because of a broken nose suffered in Miami’s victory over Oklahoma City—the Heat inserted center Greg Oden into the starting lineup, reprising the 2007 NCAA title-game matchup between the former No. 1 draft pick and Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah (20 points, 15 rebounds)—and Chris Bosh (28 points, 10 rebounds), playing his natural power-forward position, picked up the offensive slack. But between Noah’s rebounding, Carlos Boozer’s passing, Mike Dunleavy Jr’s scoring punch (13 points) and the usual feistiness displayed by veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls were ahead 24-20 after the initial frame, overcoming their early ball-security woes.

The outset of the second quarter was a study in defensive prowess, or offensive incompetence, depending on one’s view. More than four minutes of action went by before either squad got on the board, and after Miami first broke the ice, the Bulls were unable to follow suit, incurring a pair of shot-clock violations and missing their first 10 shots from the field in the stanza.

Meanwhile, Chicago native Dwyane Wade (23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got his offensive game in gear, making Snell’s life tough on the defensive end of the floor when he wasn’t getting out in transition to score. The Bulls eventually broke out of their shooting slump without giving up too much ground and as sixth man Taj Gibson (20 points, 10 rebounds) made his usual impact, they once again took control, though it was knotted up at 40 apiece at the intermission, following a Wade jumper at the halftime buzzer.

After the break, the same low-scoring pattern emerged, as defense continued to rule the day. Miami was led by Wade and Bosh, while Noah continued to propel the Bulls in the close-knit, back-and-forth affair, until the visitors’ offensive ineptitude finally allowed the Heat to build a double-digit cushion as the third quarter went on.

A Boozer layup halted an 11-0 Heat run, but heading into the final stanza, the Bulls suddenly faced a 65-52 deficit.

The Bulls’ strategy of employing Gibson as the go-to guy and using a two-man game with the big man and Noah as their primary form of attack, while effective against a lot of teams, didn’t do much to cut into the gap against Miami. In fact, as Gibson was frustrated by a perceived lack of calls in his favor, the Heat extended their lead in the fourth quarter and although the Bulls continued to display a competitive spirit, they were unable to seriously challenge their hosts.

Given the Bulls’ offensive struggles, a Mario Chalmers three-pointer with 3:22 virtually sealed the deal, giving the Heat an 84-68 advantage with 3:22 remaining, followed by a Wade jumper on Miami’s subsequent possession. Down the stretch, the Bulls demonstrated their typical fight, but simply couldn’t overcome an offense that featured 35.8-percent shooting from the field and seven shot-clock violations over the course of the game.

After a day off, the Bulls will have the opportunity to regroup Monday before taking on the Hawks in Atlanta in their next game, Tuesday night.