In a defensively dominating game that got as physical as the Eastern Conference Final game it may have previewed, LeBron James turned in a typically outstanding all-around game and his Miami Heat locked down the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, holding them to a season-low point total in an 83-72 win in Miami Thursday night.
James scored 27 points on 8-18 shooting with 10-12 free throws while pulling in 11 rebounds, six assists against a single turnover in 35 minutes on the court. LeBron got the Heat going early by registering 15 of his points in the first quarter.
Miami was playing without frontcourt starters Chris Bosh and Ronnie Turiaf, but apart from Joakim Noah's 5-5 shooting, the Bulls couldn't get it clicking against the Heat reserves. Luol Deng, the league leader in minutes per game, was 4-6 from the floor in the first quarter and then couldn't make anything after that, missing eight of his last nine shots.
Deng's struggles mirrored his team as a whole as the Bulls, who made 11 of 19 shots in the first quarter, made 14 if 51 shots after the opening quarter (27 percent). As the numbers show, it wasn't just Deng, it was a Chicago epidemic.
- Carlos Boozer went three for four in the first before making only one of seven the rest of the way.
- Chicago guards, led by John Lucas III (team-high 16 points), shot a miserable 7-31 from the floor.
Only Noah's efforts (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Taj Gibson off the bench (4-6, nine points, three rebounds, two steals) registered positive for the Bulls, but despite the overall ineffectiveness Chicago scratched and clawed its way and kept the game well within reach throughout.
Noah was on the receiving end of some extracurricular activity that played as an undercurrent during the game. James Jones decided he had enough of Noah and shoved him in the face in the lane with two hands. Jones' actions garnered a Flagrant-2 foul and an auto-ejection from the game in the second quarter.
In the third, Dwyane Wade and Richard Hamilton tussled, with Hamilton delivering an intentional elbow brushing of Wade's face while Hamilton had the ball on the wing and Wade responded by shoving Hamilton to the floor, earning Wade a Flagrant-1 and both players a technical foul.
Wade's activity, 2-7 for five points at the time of the skirmish, picked up after that, scoring 13 points and getting three steals the rest of the game. Hamilton, meanwhile, made the two free throws from the flagrant foul and two more later in the quarter, but would otherwise be non-existent offensive despite playing nearly 10 more game minutes after that.
Miami led by three points heading into the game's final quarter, which turned out to be a brutal, defensively dominating episode as both teams combined for 28 percent shooting (10-36).
Between the 9:06 and 1:31 marks of the fourth quarter, bookending a pair of Taj Gibson made jump shots, the Bulls managed only one field goal and seven points. Miami, meanwhile, used a 13-3 run during that period to finally stretch the lead out to double digits and take control of the game.
Your friendly BullsBlogger at Blog-A-Bull tips his cap to Miami's defense, highlighting a particular area of excellence during the game:
A similar matchup going differently than last week was the muzzling of Kyle Korver, who was 0-2 in 16 minutes of action. Shane Battier had only a single 3-pointer to his name himself, but he and the Heat did a fantastic job limiting Korver's actions off of screens. The Bulls favorite scripted options on offense involve Korver or Rip Hamilton in that fashion, but the difference with using it against the Heat instead of the clinic the Bulls were able to run against Charlotte the night before is apparent. Miami does a much better job closing space and rotating behind their perimeter defenders, to where the shots are more contested, and the dishes still leave defenders to beat.
For more on Miami's point of view, go to Peninsula Is Mightier.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.