Can Miami recreate Game 2 intensity vs. Bulls?
The Bulls should be ready for what awaits in Miami at Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Ignoring the night life and golf courses should come naturally. The empty seats draped in white to conceal a late-arriving crowd is nothing the Bulls haven't seen already in Atlanta.
Once everyone settles in, the Heat has a decent home crowd and one of the most annoying public-address announcers in the NBA, but the intimidation factor is fairly low at American Airlines Arena.
Miami is a perfect 6-0 at home in the playoffs this year, while the Bulls have a two-game playoff winning streak in the building. The 2 victories were in 2007, so the relevance in questionable, but the Bulls should have no trouble finding the sense of urgency in their luggage.
"These are moments that will dictate what our careers are and what people remember us as," center Joakim Noah said. "These are the biggest games of our lives. Everybody is playing like it."
In some ways, the pressure will be on the home team as the series shifts to Miami. The Heat delivered a brilliant defensive performance in Game 2. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade produced 40 minutes of blurriness, while veteran forward Udonis Haslem could suddenly walk again after missing 78 games with a foot injury.
Miami used a smallish lineup, with Haslem or Joel Anthony typically paired with Chris Bosh on the inside, and kept defensively challenged guard Mike Bibby on the floor for nearly 35 minutes.
With all that, the Heat was able to keep Derrick Rose out of the lane, for the most part. It managed not to get destroyed on the offensive glass and still closed out well on the Bulls' 3-point shooters.
Thanks to that defensive masterpiece, the Bulls produced season lows with 75 points and 34.1-percent shooting.
The question now is, essentially, can the Heat do that again? Twice?
The Bulls' defense against Miami has been consistent. In five games between these teams, the Heat has scored below 90 four times. In all five of those contests, Miami scored at least 10 fewer points in the second half than it did in the first as the Bulls turned up the intensity.
The Heat has been an excellent defensive team all season. But the Game 2 performance was above and beyond normal NBA standards. Miami got it done with basically a seven-man rotation.
It's possible the Bulls could head south and turn in a stinker defensively. But after losing at home Wednesday, they figure to bring the focus to Game 3.
Rose has had three days to study the video with coach Tom Thibodeau. When the Bulls headed to Atlanta tied at 1-1 in the second round, Thibodeau asked Rose to play at a faster pace and push the tempo.
He made the same request following the loss to Miami.
"The more aggressive the better," Thibodeau said. "A lot of that's tied to our defense; our ability to get stops and get him out in the open floor so he can attack. When he's rebounding and busting out with the ball, those breaks are impossible to stop.
"Those are guaranteed layups. Usually he comes up with three or four of those."
It seemed to be asking quite a lot, but Rose responded with 44 points in Atlanta. When he's at his best, it usually shows up right away in his outside jumpers.
Besides pushing the tempo, the Bulls definitely could use better long-range accuracy after going 3-for-20 in Game 2.
They're counting on Kyle Korver to break out of his 3-for-15 slump over the last five games, but there is no better sign for the Bulls than working the ball out to Keith Bogans for a couple of early 3s. It's not all on Korver.
Overall, the Bulls need to pass the ball more and dribble into traffic less against Miami's defense. Bosh and Haslem on the floor is a great opportunity for second-chance baskets, and the Bulls need to deliver.
Carlos Boozer's highest point total in five games against the Heat is 16. Thibodeau asked for more post-ups, but with Miami so dedicated to clogging the lane, Boozer might be better suited to knocking down a few jumpers.
Taking care of the ball and not giving the Heat another 10-0 fastbreak run is a must during the second half. But when the Bulls erased that 11-point deficit, it was a couple of defensive mistakes that ruined the game.
On James' go-ahead 3-pointer, Bibby set a screen, Korver switched onto James, then backed off. Deng already was following Bibby, so James had a wide-open look.
Then after Taj Gibson's basket brought the Bulls within 3 points with 2:29 left, the Bulls had Wade trapped with the shot clock under four seconds, but Joakim Noah reached in and committed a needless foul. The free throws sent the lead back to 5.
"The big adjustment is you have to come out and play with great intensity," Thibodeau said. "To me, that's the big thing. Sometimes it's one or two hustle plays that makes the difference."
The Bulls have bounced back from tough losses all season. Can Miami respond to the comforts of home with another intense defensive effort? The Heat check is on.