Playing the first contest of a season-long, nine-game road trip, the Chicago Bulls fell to the Miami Heat 97-93 on Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Bulls dropped to 17-5 this season.
The Bulls, who were without both Luol Deng (wrist) and C.J. Watson (wrist), placed all five starters in double figures against the Heat. Derrick Rose got off to a slow start because of early foul trouble, but he ended up with 34 points -- 21 in the second half -- six rebounds and six assists while shooting 11-for-28 from the field and 12-for-14 from the free throw line in over 44 minutes of action. LeBron James put up a game-high 35 points to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists. The Heat's small forward didn't defend Rose full-time until late in the fourth quarter, but when he did the 6-foot-3 point guard had a stretch where he played away from the ball rather than attacking and playmaking. James made spectacular plays from start to finish, including a wicked one-handed dunk over -- literally -- the 5-foot-11 John Lucas III. Chris Bosh, whom the Bulls don't seem to have an answer for, picked up right where he left off in last season's Eastern Conference finals, posting 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch needed Rose to shoulder much of the offensive burden for most of the day. Rip Hamilton (11 points, five turnovers) and Carlos Boozer (10 points, nine rebounds) combined to shoot 9-for-26 from the field. Joakim Noah certainly came to play, though -- which he has done on a consistent basis over the past couple weeks -- dropping 11 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. In place of Deng, Ronnie Brewer had 10 points, six rebounds and three steals and spend a lot of time defending James.
As Rose picked up two fouls just four minutes and 24 seconds into the game, the Bulls fell behind 18-7 in the first quarter. But Thibodeau brought his star back in the game three minutes later and the Bulls the finished the stanza on a 15-6 run to trail 24-22 after one stanza. While the Bulls' defense sharpened up in the second half, when they allowed the Heat (15-5) to score 41 points, Miami's first-half performance obviously didn't please Thibodeau and his players. The Heat led 56-51 at halftime, although the Bulls actually had more fastbreak points (15-14) on the day despite the fact that the home team seemingly lived in transition to open the game, with James putting home several rim-rattling dunks.
Across the board, the Bulls and Heat matched up fairly closely. Of course, James had a huge performance, but the Bulls were minus the aforementioned Deng, who has probably had the most success on James than any other NBA player over the past few years. Hamilton, who missed Friday night's 107-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks due to a right thigh bruise and sore left groin, got off to a tremendous start and it seemed as if he would play a major role in this contest, but he did not score in the second half and missed all six of his shot attempts. Fortunately for the Bulls, Hamilton did a solid job defending Dwyane Wade -- who raved about the longtime former Detroit Piston on Saturday -- shot equally as bad on the night, missing 12-of-16 field-goals for 15 points, although he had seven assists.
The Heat led 82-71 early in the fourth quarter, however, the Bulls clawed back once again and tied it up at 84 with just under seven minutes left. Rose made dazzling floaters and athletic layups all afternoon. He did appear slowed down once the Heat put James on him, which the Bulls countered by giving Hamilton the ball more. But that didn't work out, as the Bulls experienced a drought of almost four minutes in the final period.
Yet, Chicago still had its chances to come up with a win. Uncharacteristically, Rose missed a pair of free throws that would have given the Bulls the lead with 22.7 seconds left. He hadn't missed a foul shot the entire game up to that point and hadn't missed a fourth-quarter shot from the charity stripe all season.
The Bulls promptly fouled James, who also missed two free throws. And then the madness occurred. On James' second miss, there was an inadvertent whistle by an official, which led to a jump ball that the Heat won. Then, Heat guard Mario Chalmers missed 1-of-2 foul shots, Rose left a floater short over two defenders and Bosh collected the rebound and made two free throws to put the game away.
The Bulls were in position to win short-handed, but they botched several opportunities down the stretch. They missed plenty of easy shots throughout the game and failed to corral important rebounds, a battle the Heat won, 48-47. Both squads clearly wanted to win this one badly to send an early-season message in a game that featured arguably the two best teams in the NBA, which was expected even though Thibodeau and Rose claimed it was just another game.
Next up, the Bulls head to the capital of the U.S. for Monday night's game against the lowly Washington Wizards (4-16) at Verizon Center.