CHICAGO (CBSMiami.com) – The Miami Heat lost game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals series by 21 points, beaten down by the Chicago Bulls 103-82.
The Heat managed to keep the game close for the first 3 quarters, but absolutely fell apart in the fourth, putting up only 19 points to the Bulls’ 31.
Chris Bosh scored a solid 30 points, the game’s top scorer but LeBron James managed just half that, and the other member of the Three Kings, Dwyane Wade, managed just 18 points. Production from the bench was minimal.
In contrast, the Bulls’s bench managed to put up 29 points, and while none of the Bulls’ starters outplayed Bosh, their over scoring was more consistent, with Derrick Rose putting up 28 points, Luol Deng hitting for 21 and Carlos Boozer 14.
The Bulls are off to a good start after sweeping the Heat during the regular season. As the final minutes ticked away, fans chanted “Over-rated!” and “Beat the Heat!”
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago, and they’d be just fine with another performance like this.
Rose settled down after committing three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all.
As for his apology?
“It was on me,” Rose said. “Careless turnovers. You can’t do that against this team. When they get into the open court, they’re too dangerous. … I’m the point guard. I’ve got to do way better.”
He did just that after the early hiccup, particularly in the second half and hit some big shots down the stretch. Even so, this was no solo act.
Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals, seven rebounds and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
“Definitely to guard a guy like that the whole defense has to stay focused,” Deng said. “There were times we switched and times we forced him into the double. Our bigs were great at forcing him into the front.”
Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joakim Noah had 14 rebounds and the Bulls pounded the Heat on the glass, 45-33, grabbing 19 on the offensive end while outscoring them 31-8 on second-chance points.
“You play defense. You play defense hard and the shot goes up and they get an offensive rebound, kick it out for a three or get a layup or a dunk,” James said. “Those are demoralizing for a defensive team. We’ve got to figure out a way to clean that up.”
Chris Bosh led Miami with 30 points and nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade scored 18 points, but the Heat simply were overmatched down the stretch.
“Dwyane and LeBron are going to create a lot of attention,” Bosh said. “This is a good defensive team. … They’re going to make them distributors. We have to look at where we fell short as a team for Game 1 and come back with a better approach.”
The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third when the Bulls made their move, reeling off 10 straight and seizing the momentum.
Rose and Bogans started it by nailing 3-pointers. A steal by Bogans against Wade led to two free throws by Rose after he got knocked to the floor going for a fast-break layup.
Then, after a timeout, Noah blocked a layup by Wade and scored seconds later on a layup off an inbounds along the Bulls’ baseline, making it 67-58.
The Heat’s James Jones ended the run with a 3, but the Bulls simply weren’t about to be stopped.
When Deng hit a 3 with 1:15 left to make it 72-63 with 1:15 remaining, the crowd jumped to its feet and let out a roar. More important, that started a 14-3 run that stretched into the fourth and put this one away.
Whether it was Boozer feeding Omer Asik for a dunk early in the fourth or Deng racing in to put back his own missed jumper after a 3 by James, there was plenty for the Chicago fans to cheer during that stretch. They were loving it when Ronnie Brewer stole a pass from Mario Chalmers and hit two free throws, then dunked to make it 80-66. And when C.J. Watson buried a 3 to put the lead at 17, they just about came unglued.
For at least some Chicago fans, beating Miami to get to the NBA finals would be sweet redemption after what happened during the summer.
With enough salary-cap room for a pair of stars, the Bulls went after James, Wade and Bosh in the summer, hoping to land some combination of the two.
You know the rest of that story.
“We felt like we could compete against anybody,” Noah said. “This is just a really exciting situation right now. The position that we’re in is unbelievable. We feel like we’re not satisfied, have a long way to go. Nobody believed that we could be in this position right now. We’re not worried about the praise. We’re not worried about the criticism. We’re just focused on what we need to do, and we believe in each other.”
The Bulls wound up with a league-leading 62 wins after hiring Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau and beefing up their roster with Boozer and solid role players. The biggest boost, of course, came from Rose, who emerged as the league’s youngest MVP and ended James’ two-year run while helping Chicago match its best record since the 1997-98 season, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second three-peat.
Along the way, the Bulls swept three close games from the Heat, winning them by a combined eight points. James missed the first with an ankle injury, Bosh went 1 for 18 in the second and the Heat shed tears after falling to Chicago again in March.
That was during a five-game losing streak, but Miami regrouped after that, winning 15 of 18 down the stretch and then knocking out both Philadelphia and Boston in five games. Now, the Heat will have to collect themselves again.
“We took it on the chin tonight,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.