In the wake of another Derrick Rose season-ending knee injury, the Bulls have been trying to dial in a system that works to their benefit, and they connected on one in a 107-87 victory against the Heat on Thursday.
The Bulls have done plenty of regular season damage against the Heat by scoring inside and owning the rebound battle. That’s typically the way to have success against the Heat, in the regular season anyway.
“For us, our guys up front, that’s one of our strengths,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Friday. “The fact that we have Joakim (Noah) and Taj (Gibson), they can play smalls, and Carlos (Boozer) was terrific throughout the whole (Heat) game. He was so aggressive that it really got us going.”
Despite the inside focus, the Bulls are also going to have to rely on the offensive resurgence from Luol Deng, who has scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games, and the continued growth of Tony Snell, at least until Jimmy Butler can return to the court.
In the best-case scenario, Thibodeau seemed to suggest that Butler could return as early as Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center.
Before that game though is Saturday’s matchup with the Detroit Pistons, a team built similarly to the Bulls in that they too have athletic big men. In fact, before the Bulls used their inside game to defeat the Heat on Thursday, the Pistons ended Miami’s 10-game win streak Tuesday with a like strategy.
“They’re so powerful up front,” Thibodeau said of the Pistons. “They can beat you with the second shot, they can beat you with the rebounding. You look at the versatility of their bigs, it puts on enormous pressure. And their guards, with the penetration, it leads to second shots, as well.”
The first two quarters Thursday was probably the Bulls’ most complete half all season. There was a bit of a third-quarter malaise that was quickly corrected as the Bulls ran away with the victory. That third quarter, though, caught Thibodeau’s attention.
“We have to play tough with the lead,” Thibodeau said. “The last four or five games, I think we’ve played well, unfortunately we didn’t have much to show for it. Now I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
It’s as if the Rose injury hangover is starting to subside and the new gameplan is once again taking root.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the important thing is to come out with the right mindset (Saturday) to know how aggressive we have to be against a team like that with their size and their quickness,” Thibodeau said. “We’re going to have to be ready for the speed and intensity of the game and it’s important for us to follow up and have an edge to our game when that ball goes up in the air (Saturday) night.”