It’s Thursday, May 19th, 2011. Two days before, the Bulls came out and proved why they were the top team in the NBA. 28 points from Derrick Rose led the Bulls to a convincing 103-82 victory over the Miami Heat – the new “Super Team” that was predicted to dominate the league. The city of Chicago was on a high, 3 wins away from the NBA Finals. Something we have been chasing since MJ watched is shot over Byron Russell go in to seal their 6th championship. But Miami had other plans, coming back in Game 2 where LeBron was LeBron and the Heat tied up the series. Little did we know, Game 1 would be the Bulls’ only win of that series. The Heat went on to win the next 3 straight, on their way to the NBA Finals.
So here we are today – the Bulls shock the world and take Game 1. Then back come the Heat last night to even the series heading back to Chicago. Now is our chance to change history – this time possibly without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng – to come back and win this series. So can the undermanned Bulls, playing a group of backups, avoid losing 4 straight again to the Heat who are arguably better now than they were in 2011? This is how they’ll win:
They need Luol Deng. The Bulls deserve a lot of credit for winning Game 7 against Brooklyn and Game 1 against Miami, both on the road, without Luol Deng. But Jimmy Butler, as great as he’s been, can’t continue to play 48 minutes a game and be responsible for shutting down LeBron and DWade. He needs help defensively, which the Bulls lack on the wing without Deng there. Last night the Heat exploited that by moving the ball as well as they do and forcing the Bulls into mismatches and missed assignments. They need Deng back, healthy, and helping amp up the defensive intensity on the Heat.
Carlos Boozer. Where the hell are you!?! He averaged a double-double in the regular season (16 pts, 10rbs). He scored 17 in the Bulls’ Game 7 win over Brooklyn. Game 1 against Miami? 6 points, 3-11 shooting. Game 2 against Miami? 8 points, 3-9 shooting. Carlos Boozer has had a great season, and great first round of the playoffs. But he consistently struggles against the Heat in the playoffs. He’s already a defensive liability, so if he isn’t scoring, he can’t be on the floor (and he hasn’t at the end of games). Boozer has to be a threat to score to draw attention off of Nate.
Limit the Heat bench: One of the glaring similarities between their losses to the Nets in the last round and the Heat last night, is opponents bench scoring. Last night the Bulls hung with the Heat for most of the first half. But 18 points off the bench from Norris Cole (7 points in Gm 1 ) and 21 points off the bench from Ray Allen (9 points in Gm 1) was the difference. And since the Bulls’ second unit is in reality an NBA 3rd/4th unit, they can’t compete with that. Limit the Heat bench.
Keep your composure: With Deng, Kirk and Rose out, Joakim Noah has become the emotional leader of this team. And if he loses his cool like he did last night, we see how the team crumbles. They need the Noah who gathers the rest of the team when they start to unravel and gets them back on track. We need the new mature Joakim Noah to come back and be the leader he has been this entire post-season.
Can the Bulls win this series? Most likely not. But I do believe they can be better than they were in 2011. They can win 1 or 2 more games this series if they can get back to the things that got them here – great defense, great team play, intensity and grit. If we’ve learned anything from the Bulls this season, its that they bounce back. They will be ready to go tomorrow in front of their home crowd.