Mental toughness key for Bulls
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Coach Tom Thibodeau says the Bulls cannot get sidetracked in Friday's Game 3 against the Miami Heat.
The first two games of the Miami series provided contrasting portraits of the Bulls.
Even when playing short-handed, they can rise to the occasion as well as any team in the NBA. The 93-86 victory in Game 1 was a perfect example.
Because they're playing short-handed, though, they've got to be razor sharp.
Faced with a more intense Heat effort Wednesday, the Bulls were sloppy, fell way behind and tossed the game plan in the garbage before checking out completely.
Now tied at 1-1, the Bulls will try to bring an A-level performance to Game 3 on Friday at the United Center (7 p.m., ESPN). Coach Tom Thibodeau offered his own description of the two games in Miami.
"We imposed our will in Game 1. They imposed their will in Game 2," Thibodeau said. "So we'll see in Game 3."
Luol Deng, still recovering from a bad reaction to a spinal tap, won't play. Kirk Hinrich had an MRI on his injured left calf Thursday. He already has missed five games with the injury and his return is questionable.
Thibodeau said there has been no change in Derrick Rose's status. A rumor that Rose planned to suit up for Game 3 got plenty of attention on Wednesday's TNT broadcast but remains unconfirmed.
The Heat proved it can shake off rust quickly with its Game 2 performance. Miami lost the series opener after sitting idle for a week, the byproduct of sweeping Milwaukee in the first round. Wednesday's game got completely out of hand, with the Bulls trailing by as many as 46 points.
But the Bulls actually answered the challenge for most of the first half. Even with an inspired LeBron James repeatedly getting to the rim, the Bulls were within 42-38 with 3:42 left in the second quarter.
They seemed to lose their edge a few minutes before that. The officiating crew already had called technical fouls against James, Dwyane Wade, Joakim Noah and Marquis Teague, plus a flagrant foul on Miami's Chris Andersen.
After a Taj Gibson basket brought the Bulls within 32-28, a timeout was called at the 8:35 mark of the second quarter, and Nate Robinson could be seen jawing with Noah as he headed toward the bench, clearly celebrating the team's successful run.
One referee was standing next to Robinson and did nothing, but Scott Foster called Robinson for a technical. As the timeout continued, Noah — who already had a technical foul — followed Foster around the court trying to state his case.
It was a strange scene and a sign of things to come. Noah and Gibson both were ejected in rapid fashion for complaining to the referees early in the fourth quarter. By that time Miami's lead was nearing 40 points and frustration had clearly set in.
"We've got to do better," Thibodeau said Thursday at the Berto Center. "We can't get sidetracked. We know how it will be called. We're not going to get calls. We've just got to be tough mentally, physically, emotionally. We've got to be a lot stronger."
When the Bulls played well, they actually shot more free throws than the Heat in Game 1. The true downfall in Game 2 wasn't the technical fouls; it was the Bulls' meltdown late in the first half.
Trailing by 4, they let Wade drive the baseline for a dunk, then James hit a 3-pointer and Wade finished a fastbreak dunk. Finally, Norris Cole canned 2 straight corner 3-pointers while Robinson was hanging in the lane.
Suddenly, the Bulls trailed 55-41 at halftime. They brought nothing to the court in the third quarter, ditching the usual body-position defense for a version where every attempt to help led to a wide-open shot for Miami.
The formula for hanging with the Heat is simple enough: Avoid turnovers and fastbreak baskets. Make Miami play in the half-court and don't let the outside shooters build confidence. It all happened in Game 1.
"When you're facing adversity, you have to be mentally tough," Thibodeau added. "We're short-handed, and we can never underestimate how hard we have to play when we're short-handed. That's the reason why we've been able to accomplish success. We do that, we're in position to win."
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