Heat hurt Bulls in the paint
CHICAGO -- Out of all the stats that will enrage Tom Thibodeau as he stews over the Game 2 box score into the wee hours of Thursday morning, one combination of numbers will probably irk him more than most.
Points in the paint: Miami 50, Chicago 34.
When the Eastern Conference finals started, the Bulls thought they had a major advantage in big men depth and interior defense. Heck, Kurt Thomas, a guy who could probably average 20-30 minutes a game for the Heat right now, has barely played for the Bulls over the past month because Thibodeau's roster is chock full of young athletic bigs who can defend and rebound.
The problem on Wednesday night for the Bulls was that there were too many lapses in both areas. Not only did Thibodeau's bunch allow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to penetrate a lot easier to the rim than they had on Sunday night, they let them pick up all the loose balls and extra rebounds that weren't a problem for the Bulls to scoop up in Game 1. The fact that the Heat actually outrebounded the Bulls 45-41 will make Thibodeau even angrier than usual as he rewinds the tape of the game.
"We definitely have work to do," Bulls center, and resident energy expert Joakim Noah said. "Their energy and their effort was greater than ours tonight and that's the difference."
In so many ways, the Heat beat the Bulls at their own game.
They played solid defense, worked the boards and ran down loose balls. Yes, the Bulls missed a boatload of shots, but that wasn't the main reason Thibodeau gave his players a tongue lashing after the game was over. They didn't play they same way they have all year and the players knew it.
"We're never worried about missed shots," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We're really not. In the playoffs, you're going to have nights when you make shots and nights where you miss shots. You've got to fight. You've got to have the will to fight. We did a good job of fighting back, but they won the fight tonight."
That fight was epitomized by the play of Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who came out of mothballs on the Miami bench to score 13 points and grab five rebounds, looking like the type of player who would fit right in on the usually hard-nosed Bulls roster.
"He's a veteran player," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "He played on that team that won the championship, and [has] great experience. You got to take your hat off to him. He played great for them. He made great energy plays, rebounded the ball and shot the ball well. Played good defense."
"[Haslem] played really well for them," he said. "He was definitely a difference maker in this game, shot the ball great, great energy. Hit some big shots for them, and rebounded the ball very well."
Boozer believes the discrepancy in rebounding was simple.
"Their guards got more rebounds," he said. "You see LeBron with 10. D. Wade had however many he had. Mike Miller had six or seven. Udonis came in and gave them great energy as well and we got to do a better job."
That was Thibodeau's not so subtle message to his team as well.
"He just said we have a great opportunity," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "Not many teams can be in our position. We let one go, but it's not the end of the world. It's a tied series now. We've been in this situation, but we have to come with a better fight. He said there's no letdowns, you've been around this league a long time. Anything can happen. It's still a lot of fight. It's not the end of the world. We've got to get ready to go watch some film and just get ready for the next game. Guys are a little mad, but we understand that things are going to happen. We've got to bounce back."
If they don't do so on the boards Sunday night in Game 3, they may dig themselves the kind of hole that is too tough to get out of.