Coach Thibodeau has to be happy about this one. This was a statement game for the Bulls (36-9) as MVP, Derrick Rose sat out with a groin injury and Richard Hamilton was out with his shoulder injury. Minus the two starters, the Bulls snuck a win in against their Eastern Conference rival, Heat (31-11). John Lucas III stepped up big time to push the Bulls past the Heat, in a tight one that ended 106-102.
After trailing throughout the first quarter, the Bulls took charge in the second quarter and never looked back. They fended off the Heat’s runs and continued to retaliate with runs of their own.
With Derrick out of the lineup, the dynamic was entirely different for the Bulls. CJ Watson started the game and finished with 11 points and four assists in 21 minutes, but it was John Lucas that took charge at the point guard position for the Bulls. Lucas had 24 points, connecting on 3 of his 5 three point attempts, as well as hitting big time shots to keep the Bulls ahead down the stretch.
After a pair of three pointers from James Jones to keep it a ball game in the final minute, LeBron James (35 points) and Dwyane Wade (36 points) were not able to put the Bulls away. The Bulls are now 8-3 without their superstar guard.
What does it mean?
The perpetually scrutinized Heat have now lost back to back games and are 4-4 since the All-Star break. Normally, the media is all over them about losing games but in reality, it is entirely without merit. This one means a lot more to the Bulls than it does to the Heat.
The Bulls were in dire need of this win. They treated this one like a playoff game in order to show their fans that the team can compete with the Heat come playoff time. In a shortened season, this win will also help boost the Bulls toward the number 1 seed, thus securing home court advantage in the Playoffs. This will no doubt be, not necessarily conducive to, but a catalyst in a trip to the finals.
The Bulls also proved that the collective team can keep up with the star powered Heat, and that Derrick Rose will not necessarily need to be the driving force for the Bulls in the Playoffs. The Bench Mob was sensational and proved the Bulls depth, which was ultimately the basis of this win. All ten Bulls players scored and six were in double-figures. However, 83 of the Heat’s 102 points came from their big three, and no other players made it to double figures.
The Bulls also dominated the stat line, leading in field goal percentage (46.8%-44.7%), three point percentage (52.6%-50.0%), Free throws (24-26 vs. 20-23), offensive rebounds (14-11), rebounds (50-34), and assists (20-17). Although a narrow win in all categories, the Bulls outplayed the Heat on the stat sheet and as a result won on the scoreboard as well.
The Bulls play the Heat twice more, which will preview what will likely turn into an Eastern Conference Finals rematch.
Stats from ESPN.com