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LeBron James carried the Miami Heat against the Chicago Bulls in Game 4, and aside from putting his team one win away from the NBA Finals, it proved once and for all... Love him or hate him, LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world.
When the Miami Heat signed Mike Miller to a five-year, $30 million contract last summer, they expected him to provide supplementary scoring and three-point shooting to help take some of the load off LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That hasn't happened all season, thanks to a broken thumb and Miller's own ineffective play, but in a game where they needed him most, Miller delivered.
Miller scored 12 points in the game on 5-8 shooting and provided nine of those points in the fourth quarter to help Miami win in overtime. Miller started the fourth quarter by hitting a three-pointer, then hit a couple jumpers and threw in a floater for good measure. He also added nine rebounds, providing the sort of all-around contributions that he would ideally like to provide. His production was one of the major reasons Miami's bench was able to outscore the vaunted Chicago bench 23-18.
Miller has seen his game take a strange turn in recent years, as he's stopped shooting threes (his strength) and tried to become a point forward. His lack of offensive aggression was kind of stunning. That trend had continued this year, though it was in part because his thumb hasn't healed. But in Game 4, Miller was finally who the Heat wanted him to be, and it paid off in a huge victory.
As the Chicago Bulls sorted out their third straight loss to the Miami Heat, an overtime defeat in Game 4 that featured LeBron James defending Derrick Rose well in the fourth quarter and James and Dwyane Wade taking over in extra time, coach Tom Thibodeau did what coaches often do: deflected some of the blame to the referees.
In his post-game comments, Thibodeau said that Rose hadn't gotten the number of free throws he deserved.
"There's been a lot of contact, and he hasn't gotten calls," Thibodeau said.
Rose had just seven free throws in Game 4, with five of those coming in the fourth quarter. Rose has taken just 26 free throws all series, an average of 6.5 per game. Carlos Boozer has, in fact, taken one more free throw than Rose in about 26 fewer minutes in the series. LeBron and Chris Bosh have each taken more free throws than Rose, and Wade has taken just three fewer.
But Miami has also made a concerted effort to force Rose to take jump shots; he's struggled from the field throughout the series, and really, throughout the playoffs.
Derrick Rose made huge strides this season for the Chicago Bulls largely because he harnessed his domain over the jump shot, one of the most critical skills of the modern NBA point guard. Defenses are more athletic and long than ever; without a jumper, point guards face steady diets of paint-packing coverage.
That what the case for Rose prior to this season -- he was amazing at getting to the rim and finishing, but he typically met two or three defenders there, creating an unnecessary burden. Improving both his mid-range jumper and three-point shot forced man defenders to respect his stepback instead of backing up to be wary of his killer first step. On the pick-and-roll, teams now have to hedge the big man or risk giving up an open j.
But all that abandoned Rose on Tuesday as the Bulls suffered a crushing overtime loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
Rose shot 5-10 at the rim -- he had two magnificent dunks, and (per usual) a series of nifty layups -- but just 3-17 from three feet and beyond. The attention-grabber is the 1-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Rose hit 33 percent of his three-pointers during the regular season, taking nearly five per game. But he's shooting below 25 percent on threes in the playoffs, taking more than six per game. Everyone has a cold run now and then. But this is well beyond that.
According to Hoopdata's advanced box score (via Tom Haberstroh), Rose shot 0-3 from 3-15 feet and 2-5 from 16-23 feet. The Bulls in total shot just 7-21 on those long two-point jumpers; Miami, by contrast, hit a solid 16-32.
The bad shooting hasn't reversed the progression for Rose -- the Heat are cinching up on him on the perimeter, challenging every shot. But the Bulls' entire offense became predicated on Rose's antics this season. They have no choice but to try to survive through his cold streak. It didn't work in Game 4.
With time winding down in the fourth and the ball in Derrick Rose's hands, the Miami Heat turned to LeBron James on the defensive end. In a grind-it-out, ugly game, both teams had to turn to defense and it began with James setting the tone. Sandwiched between fleeting moments featuring highlight reel players were stretches with little in the way of offense, including most of the first quarter.
Rose acknowledged the effort of James and admitted he made life difficult throughout Game 4. The athleticism of James, and his ability to stay with Rose and contest his shots, made those isolation plays the league MVP loves that much harder to execute.
"It's extremely hard when a 6-8 guy can easily defend you," Rose said following the loss.
And it showed. With the game tied and under a minute to go, the Bulls isolated Rose at the top of the key. Twice Rose and James went head-to-head and twice James came out on top -- forcing fall-away jumpers on both occasions, the second of which didn't even come close as time expired.
As James set the example, the rest of the Heat followed suit. Dwyane Wade, who struggled on the offensive end for much of the game, blocked two shots in overtime, including a Derrick Rose floater late that could've cut the Miami lead to four. The Heat swarmed on Rose, contested shots and came through on the defensive end as the offense began to sputter.
As a result, Miami is one game away from the NBA Finals and holds a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 at the United Center on Thursday.
Despite leading and the end of all of the first three quarters of Game 4, the Chicago Bulls simply didn't have enough to defeat the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. Dwyane Wade, who was an absolute non-factor in the third and fourth quarters, came alive in overtime. He scored six points, but more important and emphatic were his two fantastic blocked shots. Miami's defense and some great scoring from all of the big three were the stories in the overtime period, and as a result, the Heat have a 3-1 series lead after winning Game 4 by afinal score of 101-93.
The unsung hero of the game was Mike Miller, whose play on offense and on the boards was a surprising spark that helped guide Miami to the win. His 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench were a minor shock, especially since nine of those 12 points came in the fourth quarter. Oddly, the end of the fourth quarter and the beginning of overtime was mostly about Miller and Ronnie Brewer, who were fantastic on both ends of the floor at the end of the game.
In the end, the ultimate difference seemed to be fitness and player management. The Bulls went hard all game, but they looked absolutely exhausted when the overtime period rolled around, while the big three appeared to be completely fresh. Because of that difference, the Heat hold a 3-1 series lead and now appear to have one foot in the NBA Finals.
Derrick Rose has continued the momentum he generated with his second quarter hot streak and monster dunk, translating that momentum into third quarter success for himself and his team. Luol Deng has been very good offensively too, and they've guided the bulls to a lead. They're ahead of the Miami Heat by a score of 68-63 after three quarters.
Rose now has 17 points on the night and he finally knocked down his first three-point shot of the game at the end of the third quarter, which can't be a good sign for the Heat. His first step looks blazing fast tonight, even compared to the average night, and Miami's solid help defense is the only reason Rose's point total isn't well into the 20s.
Miami's offense hasn't been the greatest, which seems to be some combination of great defense by the Bulls and mediocre passing and movement by the Heat. LeBron James had a fantastic dunk in transition at the end of the quarter, but he's failed to attack the rim in the half court, which is something that has to change in the fourth quarter.
The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are involved in a close and sometimes sloppy Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final series, but all anyone is talking about right now is Derrick Rose's incredible posterization of Joel Anthony with two minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Heat were the much better team for the majority of the second quarter, but the Bulls completed a comeback that culminated in that incredible Rose dunk. Thanks to Rose's great play at the end of the quarter along with some solid shooting, the Bulls lead by a score of 46-44 at halftime.
Rose's stats don't look good - he's 4-14 from the floor - but most of those misses came in the first quarter, while a few of those have come on very tough shots where the defense made significant contact with him. The second half of the second quarter saw a great performance from Rose, and he appears to be heating up.
LeBron James was the primary scorer in the first quarter while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were invisible, but the script flipped in the second quarter. Wade and Bosh were both very good in the second quarter, with Wade looking unstoppable off the dribble.
The two teams have committed 17 turnovers between them, which suggests that the style of play benefits the Bulls. However, it's the Bulls who have committed more turnovers, and they'll have to clean that up in the second half.
The first quarter of Game 4 between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat has been a scrappy, physical, and generally ugly affair. Neither team is shooting the basketball particularly well, every rebound is being contested, and there has been a reasonably high volume of turnovers. After reading that, you were probably able to figure out who's winning. The Bulls have forced the Heat into their style of game, and as a result, they lead 19-16 after 12 minutes of play.
Luol Deng picked up two quick fouls and had to come out of the game, but surprisingly, that hasn't resulted in an offensive slow-down for the Bulls or in a serious burst of scoring for LeBron James. There was a funny moment when Deng picked up his second foul when both Kyle Korver and Rasual Butler thought they were coming into the game, but ultimately Ronnie Brewer was the man called upon. He's worked hard on defense and scored an impressive bucket after getting fouled by James, though he failed to convert the potential three point play.
Despite Chicago's lead, Miami's defense has done a great job of containing Derrick Rose. The NBA MVP has looked dangerous in transition, but his shooting in half court sets has been poor so far. Dwyane Wade are shooting poorly so far, while Chris Bosh is a complete non-factor. James heated up towards the end of the quarter, but shot poorly to start the period. There's no way that all three of those players continue to struggle from the field, so Rose will have to up his game.
After losing Game 3, the Chicago Bulls have one more chance to take back the home court advantage, and they will be looking to do that Tuesday in Game 4. If the Bulls want to win the game, they are going to have to make a few adjustments to their strategy.
Something that Derrick Rose was very frustrated with after Game 3 was the amount of double- and triple-teams that he saw. The Bulls' steady diet of pick-and-roll offense (something Chicago has been doing since the playoffs began) seems to have finally caught up with them as the Heat are doing a great job of forcing the basketball out of Rose's hands.
Once the Heat adjusted and turned Joakim Noah into a scorer off the pick-and-roll trap, the play became ineffective. With this offense now ineffective, it makes no sense to put Rose in situations where he can get trapped, meaning the Bulls should give their point guard more isolation opportunities (they had just three isolations for Rose in Game 3). Despite no scores out of these situations, the direct result of these isolation plays were either clean looks or plays that resulted in Rose getting in the paint:
Without having to face a double-team, Rose was able to break down his man and get himself into the paint. Once this happens, instead of forcing up shots Rose and his teammates need to be smarter. A perfect example of this is the final isolation. Rose breaks Mike Bibby down and gets in the paint drawing help. This gives Carlos Boozer a perfect opportunity to cut to the rim. Instead of doing that, Boozer stands and watches Rose take a tough jumper. When Rose runs isolation and gets to the paint, he is going to draw help, creating opportunities for his teammates. They just have to take advantage.
With LeBron James in quarterback mode and Chris Bosh knocking down jumpers, Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls were looking for a way to stop the Heat. They may have found one with Joel Anthony on the court, running what I have been calling a "reverse box-and-one" where they had one man (the player defending Anthony) playing zone while the rest of the defense was playing man-to-man. Despite the Heat outscoring the Bulls by two points with Anthony on the court in the third quarter, this defense resulted in some stops:
Here, the Heat run a pick-and-roll with Chris Bosh setting a screen for Dwyane Wade. Wade goes away from the screen (something that he does a lot, and something Bosh is very good at playing off of). As soon as this happens, Boozer leaves Anthony to take the pass to Bosh away. Now, Wade is forced to throw a cross court skip pass to LeBron James. James makes the catch with 10 seconds left on the clock, dribbles it out, and misses the jumper.
On this play, the Heat are trying to set up Bosh on the block against Noah. As Bosh comes across, Noah sells out for the pass, knowing that Boozer is basically playing a zone and has his back. This is what allows Noah to get a hand on the basketball and knock it out of bounds.
Finally, here, the Heat are trying to run a double cross screen for James designed to get him the basketball on the block. While Noah is fronting Bosh, Boozer totally ignores Anthony. Because Boozer is zoning up on the block, LeBron is now forced to catch the pass on the elbow instead of the block. Then after James makes the catch, Boozer simply stays there, taking away the drive on the left hand side. James is now forced to drive to the middle where there is help forcing him to kick the basketball out to Bosh, who misses the jumper against the shot clock.
So how did the Heat outscore the Bulls when they were playing this defense, and why should the Bulls continue to play it? Well, most of the baskets the Heat made came from miscommunication, which is something that will happen when you create a defensive strategy on the fly like this (this adjustment came at the half). After a day of practice and getting the rotation responsibilities down, I expect this defense to be far more effective. The result? The Bulls forcing the Heat's hand when it comes to whether or not they keep Joel Anthony on the court.
Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat look to knock off the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday night, and after 34 points in Game 3, Bosh says he's heard enough jokes from the peanut gallery. Plus: An inside scoop from Ohio State, insane goaltending, insane gossip, insane college football fans, and a much-needed NBA parody.
Talking Points is a daily series that breaks down some of the best stories in sports (and elsewhere). Check out the archives.
The truth about the Chicago Bulls finally comes out, now that the team faces an opponent with an elite defense and some scoring power: the Bulls have trouble scoring points. The Miami Heat's defense is among the best in the league, and has been all season. That's typically ignored -- the lack of consistency at center (the most important defensive position) and point guard (pretty important, as well) pushed the narrative that Miami was a questionable defense; the fact that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- two of most versatile and excellent perimeter defenders in the world -- were around seemed irrelevant.
But James and Wade have played prominent roles in the Heat defense against Derrick Rose and the Bulls. Miami is hedging hard on Rose, showing him two faces when he has a live dribble. That results in offense outside the flow, and limited Rose dribble-drive opportunity. It's choking Chicago at the neck.
That's part of the reason Chicago is struggling to shoot effectively -- they just aren't getting easy shots. The Bulls' offense was actually iffy against the Indiana Pacers in the first round, and no great shakes for most of the series against the Atlanta Hawks. But against the Pacers, the Bulls didn't have to worry about keeping pace -- there was no Indiana would run up a big number on the Bulls' own defense. Against Atlanta, Chicago knew it could score ... eventually.
But the dual concerns Miami presents has been just too much.
Chris Bosh was the superstar scorer in Game 3, dropping 34 on Carlos Boozer's glistening head. Expect Joakim Noah to take over Bosh duty; Boozer has two good defensive skills: rebounding and giving hard fouls. Given Chicago's excellent bench -- especially in the frontcourt, with Omer Asik, Taj Gibson and somewhere-down-there Kurt Thomas -- Boozer shouldn't hesitate to make Miami feel it. The problem with moving Noah onto Bosh is that Boozer isn't nearly the help defender that Jo is. So, again, he'd have to make up for it by attempting to deter Heat penetration in other ways.
Game 4 tips at 8:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday on TNT. Visit our Heat vs. Bulls hub for full series coverage. For more on the Heat, visit Peninsula Is Mightier. For more on the Bulls, visit Blog a Bull and SB Nation Chicago.
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