The ongoing saga of the plucky 2012-13 Chicago Bulls has spiraled into the realm of the ridiculous. Battling injury and illness, and just 48 hours after downing a much-hyped Brooklyn Nets team on the road in a deciding Game 7, the Chicago Bulls found yet another gear in their remarkable season as they downed the defending champion Miami Heat in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series by a 93-86 score. As a result, the Bulls now own the home court advantage in a series that absolutely no one, outside of team message boards, has picked the Bulls to win.
Chicago threw off the scent early, running out to a 10-4 lead to start the game with stout defense and excellent recovery rhythms, while the sluggish Heat attempted to work its way back into NBA speed. The Heat had not played since downing the Milwaukee Bucks on April 28, and the rust showed. Several good looks refused to go down for Miami in the first half, and despite improved execution in the second half fatigue may have played a part in Chicago’s comeback from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
“Boo-hoo,” says the Chicago Bulls.
Already without Derrick Rose entering the postseason, the Bulls were missing both Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich from the team’s starting lineup, with Carlos Boozer once again ineffective against Miami’s defense, and Taj Gibson a step slow as he works through a bum knee. And yet, let by the also-injured Joakim Noah, and diminutive guard Nate Robinson (who, because he’s a Chicago Bull, received ten stitches in his upper lip during halftime after being crushed by LeBron James as they both raced down a loose ball), Chicago prevailed. The ball movement was crisp, and the defensive effort was typically brilliant. You could count the number of possessions the Bulls took off on one hand.
The Heat just weren’t ready for the competition. Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler nearly matched LeBron James in the win, playing all 48 minutes, guarding the league’s MVP for the entire run, while contributing 21 points and 14 rebounds and three assists. James picked his spots with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists; but both he and his teammates will rue not being more aggressive in finding spots for James to score in.
Meanwhile, Robinson managed a game-high 27 points, holding his own defensively and nailing his usual clutch shots down the stretch. Because of Chicago’s 46-32 rebounding advantage, all of Miami’s attempts to score in the fourth quarter were met with a one-and-done turn. Somehow, Chicago set a tone that the champions couldn’t counter.
It’s a seven game series, and the Heat are more than equipped to grab one or even both games in Chicago in blowout fashion to regain the home court advantage. For one night, though, Chicago acted the part of a champion.
At some point, we will learn to stop expecting anything less from these Chicago Bulls.
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