Five keys for Bulls/Heat in Game 3

The Bulls and Miami Heat resume their best-of-seven series Sunday night
(7:30pm CST, TNT/ESPN 1000) in South Florida with the series even at
1-1. It’s a huge game for both teams, as the Bulls are coming off a loss
and haven’t lost back-to-back games since early February, and when the
home team — in this case, the Heat — loses Game 3, the chances they
win the series are just 16 percent.

Let’s take a look at five keys for the Bulls to take Game 3 in Miami.
1. Score:
After putting up 103 points on 25 assists in Game 1, the Bulls’ offense went stagnant in Game 2 on route to 75 points on 15 assists. The Bulls have to do a good job moving the ball and continue to be aggressive taking it to the basket. Tom Thibodeau knows the Bulls aren’t at their best when they’re shooting jumpers — as the Bulls went just 3-for-20 on three’s in Game 2. But they’ll also need a balanced attack. In Game 1, the Bulls got 28 points from Derrick Rose, 21 from Luol Deng and 14 from Carlos Boozer. Game 2 was an offensive struggle all around, as Rose, Deng and Boozer combined for 41 points on 15-for-48 shooting. That isn’t going to get it done. Their defense was great in Game 2, allowing 85 points to the Heat, but their offense let them down.

2. Win the intangibles: The Bulls won Game 1 because of their relentless attack to the ball. They piled up a 45-33 edge on the glass for 31 second-chance points to the Heat’s eight. The Heat came right back in Game 2 on Wednesday, holding a 45-41 rebounding advantage. There’s no excuse for the Bulls to get outrebounded by these Heat, who are small in the frontcourt. We’re so use to seeing Joakim Noah dive for loose balls, keeping balls alive; it was Udonis Haslem doing such for the Heat in Game 2, giving them a lift mentally and literally, as he scored 13 points and added five rebounds. The Bulls didn’t get the top seed in the NBA because of their potent offense — they got it because of their hustle, tenacity and willingness to compete for the basketball. The Heat beat them at their own game on Wednesday. That will need to change if the Bulls want to win in Miami.

Joakim Noah--Game 2.jpg

The Bulls will need to bring the same energy, attack to the ball they brought in Game 1, when they won the rebounding battle 45-33.

3. Battle of the stars: Which star will shine the brightest on Sunday? The Bulls certainly hope it’s Rose, the league’s Most Valuable Player, who was held to 21 points in Game 2. He’ll need to step up if the Bulls want to retain homecourt advantage, and missing 16 of 23 shots won’t cut it. However, Rose missed several easy shots. Here’s a stat: Rose went 3-for-13 in the paint. That isn’t the Rose the Bulls know and love. He’ll improve, though he doesn’t have much of a choice as the Bulls’ offense lives and dies by his play. On Wednesday, it was the latter. For the Heat, LeBron James’ 29 points led the charge. Dwyane Wade added 24 points, but it was James’ nine points in the final five minutes that sealed the deal. Who will be the best player on the court on Sunday? If it’s Rose, the Bulls’ chances to take a 2-1 series lead is great. If it’s James or Wade, it’s going to be all Heat.

4. The Boozer Conundrum: Boozer was brought to Chicago to produce along the lines of 20 points and 10 rebounds, right? He’s yet to even come close to that on a consistent basis. The only time Boozer reached 20 and 10 was in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Atlanta Hawks with 23 points and 10 rebounds. He scored just seven points in Game 2, missing seven of 10 shots. He didn’t play the entire fourth quarter in favor of Taj Gibson, though that’s more of an indictment on Boozer’s poor play. Boozer, brought to Chicago on a five-year, $75 million deal this past offseason, isn’t even the Bulls’ best power forward right now — and that isn’t a good thing. If the Bulls want to take a 2-1 series lead, he’ll need to show up and at least give the Bulls around the 14 points he scored in Game 1.

5. Play with an edge: The Bulls have talked about playing with an “edge” all season. Well, here’s their chance. Look at the situation in front of you: you’re three wins away from the NBA Finals, in position to deliver a nasty blow to the Heat (going back to the aforementioned 16 percent chance the Heat will come back in this series if the Bulls win Game 3). If the Bulls can’t see this golden opportunity, and come out playing with an edge, focused to take Game 3, then they won’t win this series. The Bulls are 2-0 in Game 3 during the 2011 playoffs. Can they make it 3-0? Expect it, as the Bulls play much better — thanks to Thibodeau’s adjustments and increased focus — when they’re coming off a loss.

Leave a comment