Bulls use shock; Heat in awe
When they agreed months ago to evacuate the UC and lend Oprah Winfrey their arena for her series-ending extravaganza -- be still my heart -- perhaps the Bulls didn't have designs on needing the court for their own series in mid-May.
At this rate they'll need it until mid-June.
The Bulls fell behind early in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, but when the Heat failed to capitalize on their first-half domination, the Bulls did what they always do.
They took over the game in the third quarter and pounded Miami 103-82 at the UC Sunday night.
As has been the case repeatedly in the postseason, it was a combination of offensive rebounds and defensive swarming that propelled the Bulls to the series lead.
"I've never seen a team so unselfish that helps each other so much defensively," said Taj Gibson, who was a monster off the bench with 9 points and 7 rebounds. "We talk a lot out there and you can see it."
You could see this game not yet in the books Sunday night when hundreds of workers dedicated to Oprah's final week of shows invaded the UC and began preparations for the big event, tearing apart rooms and breaking down seating in every direction.
With Chicago stuck in neutral and riveted by the overwhelming suspense and mystery of Oprah's ending -- be still my heart, again -- it's a wonder there was time or energy for something as trivial as an NBA semifinal game.
But there wasn't much suspense or mystery in Game 1 after the Heat failed to take care of business in the first half, especially in the first quarter, when they were the better team.
The Bulls looked nervous on a much bigger stage than the one that existed with Indiana or Atlanta, but the Heat led by only 3 after a quarter and the game was tied at 48-48 at the half.
"Miami should be up by 12 or 15," TNT's Charles Barkley said at halftime, while walking in the hallway near the locker rooms. "That's not good for the Heat. They played better and they should have a good lead. Now, Chicago's gonna win this game."
Barkley could not have been more right as the Bulls led by 9 after three quarters and blew out the Heat early in the fourth.
While their switches were embarrassing for the first few minutes, the Bulls ultimately embarrassed the Heat with a smothering presence inside.
"I've been in the NBA my entire life," Barkley said postgame. "That (Bulls team) is the best defensive team I've ever seen."
Possible hyperbole aside, the Bulls' defense was impressive, though they failed to greet the palpable intensity entering the match and understand the huge emotional change from the first two series.
After a shaky start that featured turnovers and fastbreak opportunities for Miami, it took the home team about 21 minutes to settle in and start playing their game, which meant controlling the offensive boards and preventing Miami from running the floor.
The Heat don't play with their backs to the bucket, so their easy baskets have to come in transition off Bulls' misses, but the Bulls destroyed Miami on the offensive glass (19-6) and in second-chance points (31-8).
And that was your ballgame right there.
"We did some good things, but we're not there yet," said Joakim Noah, who had 14 rebounds (8 offensive). "We have a lot of work to do, but we're excited."
Never more so than after a sensational follow dunk by Gibson in the final minute, a thunderous exclamation point in front of the visitor's bench that shook the rafters -- and the Heat, be still their hearts.
The Bulls absolutely and completely imposed their will for the final 27 minutes, humiliating an opponent that flat out quit in the oncoming face of a runaway train.
It's only one game, but as statements go the Bulls made a big one Sunday.
Now we'll see what, if anything, Miami has to say.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.