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Bulls Thu May 19 2011

LeBron Bests Rose As Miami Takes Game 2

If you ever wondered what the adage "defense wins championships" means, I present this stat from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals: The Bulls missed 14 of their first 16 shots, and yet led by seven points after a first quarter capped by Luol Deng's 60-foot buzzer-beater.

bulls heat series logo.PNGThe philosophy of a coach like Tom Thibodeau is that sometimes, no matter how many good looks you get (and there were quite a few open shots), the shots just won't fall. But you can control how well your opponent shoots, and as long as your defense keeps it close, you're still in the game.

And yet, the other part of the adage is "offense wins games." Keeping the Heat under 90 points yet again is certainly an accomplishment and one of the keys for Chicago in this series, but when the Bulls themselves can't crack 80, defense won't be enough to win the night. With players like LeBron James, a scoring run is always right around the corner, and you need to find the points to respond.

Wednesday at the United Center, it was James' nine points in the final 4 1/2 minutes that turned a tie game into an 85-75 Miami win, evening the series at 1-1. James finished with a game-high 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

This game was an ugly but determined effort by the Bulls. Ugly because they couldn't hit their shots (they shot 34 percent from the field), yet inspiring because of how many offensive rebounds they grabbed (a 17-10 advantage) only to miss the put-backs. Still, those offensive boards limited the Heat's number of possessions, and that's what kept it close until the end.

Across the board, Miami limited a lot of Chicago's weapons. Derrick Rose still found a way to get his, scoring 21 points with six rebounds and eight assists, but he hit only 7 of 23 shots. When Chicago's next-highest scorer is Deng with 13, you know that won't be enough. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah started out hot on the boards, but weren't nearly so dominant in the second half.

Miami got a pleasant surprise in Udonis Haslem's performance, the big man coming off the bench to score 13 points and grab five rebounds in 23 minutes, with most of them coming late in the game. Before this, he'd played only seven minutes in the playoffs after missing nearly the entire season.

Dwyane Wade added 24 points and nine rebounds.

Boozer was pretty invisible all night, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds, but to be fair, he only played 27 minutes. Taj Gibson earned a standing ovation when he entered the game for Boozer late in the first quarter, and he deserves to split minutes with Boozer. In fact, it was Gibson and Omer Asik who manned the post for most of the fourth quarter, not the starters.

But overall, the Heat weren't nearly the pushovers they were down low in Sunday's Game 1. Miami had a 45-41 rebounding advantage (led by James and Wade and eight boards by Chris Bosh) and a 50-34 edge on points in the paint.

So as the series moves to Miami for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Tuesday, both teams know the Heat can pull out a little brawn when needed. Their defense had its moments during the regular season too.

But with a few more bounces around the rim, this still looks like the Bulls' series to lose if they keep working for it.

 
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