The Chicago Bulls' win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series was one of the most stunning wins of the season, a case of an overmatched, injury-riddled side out-playing the clear title favorites as if it were the climax of an inspirational movie. It also recast this series as something more interesting than the dominant Heat performance most of us assumed it would be when the matchup was set on Saturday night. The Bulls were given life.
In Wednesday night's Game 2, the Heat did everything they could to obliterate that sense of hope. While Chicago played Miami close for the bulk of the first half, the home team looked far more comfortable than they had in Game 1, relying on LeBron James for early scoring and moving the ball with newfound ease.
Yet that improved start was mere prelude to the dominance to come. After a Jimmy Butler three-point play made the score 42-38 Heat with 3:42 left in the first half, the Heat closed out the period on a 13-3 run to stake themselves a sizable halftime lead. They won the third quarter by a lopsided 30-15 score and opened the fourth quarter on an 18-2 run. From that Butler and-one to the 8:27 mark of the fourth quarter, the Heat outscored the Bulls 62-20 to put the game well beyond reach. The final score of 115-78 makes it the worst loss in Bulls playoff history and the biggest win in Heat playoff history.
Simply put, Miami did everything right in this game. The shooting woes that defined their Game 1 loss did not return — they shot 60 percent from the field, hit 9-of-18 three-pointers, assisted on 29 of their 42 field goals, and saw six players score in double figures. As noted by Couper Moorhead of NBA.com, the Heat's 82.8 percent shooting in the restricted area was the best by any Bulls opponent this season. They also locked up the Bulls at the other end, holding them to 35.1 percent shooting and severely limiting the opportunities of Game 1 hero Nate Robinson (11 points on 3-of-10 FG).
While a 37-point margin cannot be explained by the officiating, the Heat were also aided by a closely called game in which the Bulls were not able to enforce their physical style on the action. Chicago can't win this series in a matchup of pure skill, and this game proved that. It would be too much to say that the officiating was blatantly unfair — the Bulls were called for 27 of the game's 51 fouls — but it's apparent that the Bulls will need a certain type of officiating to see an ideal end to this series.
However, the Bulls do have some reason to complain about the doling out of technical fouls. With the referees seemingly determined to get control of the game, the Bulls were given six technical fouls in all, although several of those came late when Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were ejected for complaining to referee Scott Foster. (Precedent suggests neither player will be suspended for Game 3.) Nate Robinson was T'd up early for appearing to do little more than excitedly walking back to his bench. It's not certain that this style of policing the game will carry over to the rest of the series, but it's a factor to watch.
A more removed perspective of this game places the Bulls in pretty good shape as the series heads to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. Their win on Monday gives them a split of the first two games with three of the last five games at the United Center. In addition, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose could return to give their team a much-needed lift, although the rumors surrounding both players could very well be cases of wishful thinking. For that matter, the Bulls have bounced back from blowouts several times this season and certainly have the mental fortitude to move past this ugly result.
On the other hand, this dominant win helped reemphasize just how much of an advantage the Miami roster has in this series. The shorthanded Bulls don't have the talent to match a focused Heat club, to the point where they need a particular kind of game with a host of breaks to make things work. That's a more likely scenario at home, so we can't count the Bulls out. Yet, after the thrill of that Game 1 win, this game served as a reminder of just how great a challenge the Miami Heat present to any opponent.