March 27, 2013. The Miami Heat rode into Chicago with an undoubted confidence rarely seen in any professional sport. Having won 27 games in a row, and threatening the all-time NBA record for consecutive wins in a season (33 wins by the ’71-’72 Lakers), the Heat walked into the Madhouse on Madison knowing they were the better, healthier team in the building.
On March 27, the Chicago Bulls ended the Heat’s win streak. LeBron James talked after the game about how the streak was “one of the best the league had ever seen.” Not lost on Bulls fans were other comments from him, teammates, and the media. The Bulls beat the Heat up. Fouls were hard. Tempers were high. LeBron knew then that a meeting in the playoffs would not be greeted with excitement as much as ice packs.
Fast forward 40 days. The Bulls were coming off a tough 7-game series victory over the New Jers…err…Brooklyn Nets. The Bulls were completely depleted, as Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich sat on the bench in suits, and Luol Deng sat in a hospital bed. Miami came in off of a 4-game opening series sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks, and were rusty out of the gate. The first game was physical, but only a precursor of the violent circus that was to come. The Bulls won game 1, 93-86.
In game two, mayhem ensued. The Bulls who were undoubtedly out of gas with the shortened bench, were blown out of Miami. The final score was 115-78, but the game really wasn’t even that close. The physical play was increased as the Bulls let it be known they would not allow James to get to the bucket without some hard contact. Nine technical fouls were handed out (6 for Chicago, 3 for Miami) and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were both ejected for (rightfully) arguing a series down at the Bulls basket. The Heat knew even with the dominating performance, that game three would not be pretty.
On May 10, game three tipped off at the United Center. When James was fouled hard by Bulls reserve center Nazr Mohammed and thrown to the floor, Mohammed responding by getting up and shoving James. James apparently found a wet spot on the floor as he went sprawling and tumbling to the floor, a good 10-15 feet from where he was shoved. He did his job, as Nazr was tossed from the game. The game stayed chippy, and Coach Tom Thibodeau saw Miami flopping. His post-game comments will draw him a fine that he’ll be more than happy to pay, but all the fine will do is fuel the flames higher. Miami won last night by 10 points, in a game that saw no fist bumps, no bro-hugs, no contact between the teams before or after the game.
Newsflash: these two teams don’t like each other. Another newsflash: if the Bulls players and coaches continue to feel that the majority of the calls are going to the lone star on Miami, and the two glorified role players (Wade and Bosh), the feud won’t be over.
This series will go a minimum of two more games. It is a series the Bulls are not going to win. That being said, there are six other teams in these playoffs that are absolutely loving what they are seeing. LeBron James can lose his cool, and when he’s not in the game, Miami will struggle to score against a team with more bodies off the bench than the Bulls have. Wade is hobbling, Miami has no low-post offensive presence, and the Heat need role players to play over their heads to continue playing with a lead (See: N. Cole).
The Chicago Bulls are doing the rest of the NBA a favor. The longer this series goes, the more frustration that mounts on James, the greater physical toll that has been and will be taken on the defending champions, the more susceptible they are to losing in these playoffs. Chicago knows this, New York and Indiana know this, Memphis, OKC and San Antonio know this. And the series is just half over.
Dwayne Wade praised the officials after game 3. Tom Thibodeau will get fined for his comments on the officiating. This is part of playoff basketball. What LeBron needs to realize is that the Bulls are laying the foundation for how to beat Miami. It won’t happen in the first series, or the Quarter Finals, but teams cannot withstand this much punishment and persevere, can they?
I guess we’ll find out. Game four tips off Monday night @ 7pm, and in the oh-so-serious words of the 2007 critically acclaimed move, there will be blood. Miami is beatable, especially if they get roughed up. The Bulls are showing that a team with half the healthy talent can stay in a series. The rest of the NBA is thankful.
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