The Miami Heat were getting anything they wanted in transition and their half-court offense, and shot 48.1% from the field.
That's when the Chicago Bulls -- along with Derrick Rose and Luol Deng -- woke up, snatched the game, and held the momentum on their way to a 4-point win over the Eastern Conference's number-one seed (coming into the game tied with the Boston Celtics).
Rose and Deng combined for 12 points in the first half; although Rose had 10 points, his passing wasn't crisp and he was settling for a lot of tough shots.
Deng had just 2 points in the first half and was let his counterpart, LeBron James, score 16 points. Deng has been the Bulls' MVP behind Rose this season, due to his heavy load of minutes, defensive presence, and consistent offensive production, but the first half was one to forget for Deng.
The Heat built that 9-point halftime lead thanks to 20 fastbreak points
-- 16 coming in the first quarter. It started to look like they were
going to have a repeat performance of the game against the Toronto
Then, the second half came.
Let's take a closer look at tonight's win against the Heat:
What led to the Bulls win: After trailing 53-44 at halftime, the Bulls came out very energetic and focused on the defensive end in the third quarter. The Bulls outscored the Heat 27-14 in the period and held the Heat to under 30% shooting in the crucial quarter.
Rose and Deng combined for 22 of the Bulls' 27 third quarter points and completely turned the tables on the Heat. In the first half, it was the Heat playing great defense and running out in transition; in the second half, it was the complete opposite.
Deng finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists on an efficient 7-for-12 shooting. He also hit the most critical shot of the game, a three-pointer from the corner with 16 seconds left on a pass from Rose.
Rose, who was guarded by James for much of the fourth quarter, drove left, and Dwyane Wade came to help off Deng -- Rose kicked it out, and Deng hit the clutch three-ball.
The Heat had a chance to tie up the game, but James followed with missing a three-pointer badly, as it didn't even hit the rim.
The Bulls played a dismal first half defensively, allowing 53 points to the Heat. But they sure did turn it around in the second half, holding the Heat to 36 points.
One Heat who was really, really struggling was Chris Bosh. Bosh scored just 7 points tonight on 1-for-18 shooting. It was the worst shooting night since Tim Hardaway went 0-for-17 in 1991. Seemed like the Bulls were playing 6-on-4 for much of the game.
It was a tale of two halves for the Bulls. They played abysmal defense in the first half, but turned up the effort, focus, and energy on their way to a big second half.
What does it signify: The Bulls defeated the Heat even though Rose, Boozer, and Joakim Noah had off-nights.
It just goes to show how talented, skilled Rose is when a 26-point, 6-assist, 5-rebound night is an "off" night. He came up with 16 points in the second half, but had 4 turnovers and shot 9-for-24 from the field.
Boozer ended up with 16 points, 9 rebounds and shot an efficient 7-for-12 from the field, but had 3 turnovers, 3 shots blocked, and never looked to be in rhythm. The Bulls tried to get him going in the second half, but he just never established himself -- give the Heat credit, they usually doubled him in the low-post.
Then there's Noah, who's playing his second game since returning from torn ligaments in his right thumb. He played 24 minutes last night against the Raptors and followed up with 27 tonight. He had 7 points -- all in the first quarter -- and 8 rebounds tonight, but still looked to have some rust.
Noah came out in the second half at the 8:27 mark, clearly gassed. When he was in, though, he made things happen by tipping offensive rebounds back. He also did a good job defensively on Bosh but it looked like everyone was doing a good job on Bosh tonight.
Noah will regain the play he had before suffering the injury, but it will take some time. It didn't hold the Bulls back tonight; neither did the off-nights by Rose and Boozer.
Key performances: The Bulls got an outstanding night from Omer Asik, who was rumored to be desired by teams in any trade with the Bulls. Asik went scoreless 20:44 and didn't attempt a shot, but his impact on the game was unquestioned.
Asik finished the game with 11 rebounds (10 defensive) and a block. He had several tap-outs for offensive rebounds -- like Noah -- and had a lot of deflections as well.
Asik showed fans why the Bulls didn't deal him for Courtney Lee and tonight was the perfect stage to show it, on national TV and all.
Ronnie Brewer had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals, but he was clearly he only one preventing Wade (34 points) from dropping over 40 points tonight. Not many can stop Wade much less stop him; Brewer gave it his all tonight and was the Bulls' best option on Wade.
Brewer and Asik both have great hands on defense and get a lot of deflections. With Noah (tired) and Bogans ineffective in the third, Brewer and Asik gave the Bulls a big boost defensively, leading to transition points.
Brewer and Asik came up huge for the Bulls tonight. Without their performances tonight, the Bulls would be on the losing end no doubt.
Battle of the "Big Three's": The Heat's Big Three of Wade, James, and Bosh outscored the Bulls' Big Three of Rose, Deng, and Boozer 70-62, but the supporting cast was the difference tonight.
James and Wade scored 29 of the 36 second half points for the Heat, which simply isn't going to cut it. Bosh, as mentioned earlier, was putrid tonight when the Heat needed him most.
The Heat's bench was also outscored 22-2, the only points coming on an Eddie House open 19-footer with 2:28 left in the first quarter.
Final thoughts: It was great to see the Bulls come up with a statement win over the Heat on national TV.
With the win, the Bulls are 2-0 against the Heat with only one more game remaining against them (@Miami on March 6th). The Bulls have the tiebreaker over Miami and that could come back at some point late in the season if the two teams end up with identical records.
Another sidenote: Tonight's game might have been one of the most poorly refereed game of the season. One play stands out: Boozer faced up Bosh, and barely grazed Bosh's face, but Bosh did a great acting job and went flying down as if someone had hit him in the face.
The Academy Awards are not here yet, Bosh.
What's next: February 26th: Bulls (39-17) @ Milwaukee Bucks (22-35). 7:30PM C.S.T. WGN/ESPN 1000
The Bulls will start their 4-game mini road trip against their neighbors above. Bradley Center has been like what Miller Park is for the Chicago Cubs -- semi-home court advantage.
The Bucks, who went 46-36 last season, have been a disappointment this season, failing to live up to the expectations that they would improve this season.
The 2010-11 Bucks are reminiscent of the 2007-08 Bulls, who went from 49-33 in 2006-07, to 33-49 in 07-08. Another similarity: both teams were coached by Scott Skiles (fired on Christmas Eve in 2007-08).