After an underwhelming performance in Game 1, LeBron James answered all the concerns and shut the door in Game 2.
On Wednesday, we asked five questions inside our Game 2 edition of Five Things To Watch. And the Heat answered them all.
Can the Heat rebound from getting outrebounded?
Game 2 total rebounds: Heat 45, Bulls 41.
I guess that answers that question. Considering that the Bulls were pulling down rebounds by the dozen in the first quarter, the final rebounding comparison is rather remarkable. The Bulls were recovering nearly every one of their missed shots in the early stages of the game, but Udonis Haslem’s entrance late in the first quarter ended Chicago's surge.
But let’s take a step back. Sure, Haslem injected energy into the Heat lineup, but to pinpoint the real rebounding catalyst, you have to look at the Heat’s wings. In LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mike Miller, the Heat employ three of the better rebounding perimeter players in the NBA. But in Game 1, they looked disengaged when it came to cleaning the glass, and they only tallied 12 rebounds between them (including three from Miller in three minutes).
On Wednesday, they stepped up in a big way, and the Heat were desperate for that contribution with centers Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas sitting on the sidelines in suits. Effectively, their inactive status told us that Spoelstra was putting the rebounding burden on the wings -- and they responded. James grabbed 10 rebounds, Wade collected nine rebounds and Miller came up with seven of his own.
Let’s not understate the effect of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer sitting for the majority of the second half (Boozer didn’t even play the entire fourth quarter). It was a bit jarring to see them on the bench during critical minutes considering their enormous impact in Game 1. The Heat outrebounded the Bulls for the first time this season and not coincidentally, they ended up with their first win against them as well.
Will the Heat find a way to attack the Bulls' defense?
The game was very much a pitchers' duel -- that is, just before James took over in the last five minutes of the game.
With the game tied at 73 with 4:35 remaining, James slammed the door on the Bulls with a flurry of clutch jumpers. He scored nine points in those final minutes, while the Bulls mustered just two. It was a late-game performance reminiscent of James’ historic Game 5 finish in the Boston series.
The Heat displayed crisp and frequent ball movement in Game 2, which is the key to puncturing the typically airtight Chicago defense. There was a possession in the third quarter that demonstrated their patience. With the Heat up 54-52, James drove to the rim. Instead of forcing a fallaway jumper, he executed a skip pass to Bosh across the court that started a chain reaction of passing. Bosh passed it to Joel Anthony, who passed it back to James who zipped it over to Wade, who passed it to Mike Bibby, who drove and kicked it out to Bosh for the open jumper. Six passes, one possession, two points.
After tallying just 11 assists on 32 field goals in Game 1, the Heat recorded 18 assists on 32 field goals in Game 2. The offense looked much more fluid and less isolation-heavy.
Can the Heat “contain” Derrick Rose again?
After a “quiet” 28 points in Game 1, Rose was nearly silenced in Game 2. The Heat kept Rose out of rhythm all game, as he missed 16 of his 23 shots on the night. While 21 points seems like a successful outing on the surface, it took a lot of misses to get there.
Where were the misses coming from? Mostly in the paint. According to the Hoopdata.com box score, Rose missed all seven of his shots in the 3-to-9 foot range, and scored only two buckets inside all night. The Heat made it a priority to smother him with multiple bodies in the paint and, as a result, he was blocked three times and was forced to pass out of many drives. Considering how talented Rose is as a finisher, you rarely see him miss so many shots that close to the rim.
Remember when everyone thought that Rose was going to chew up Mike Bibby? Well, guarding a point guard like Rose is never a one-on-one endeavor and the Heat’s defense in Game 2 underscored that. Rose is now shooting 37.8 percent against the Heat defense in this series, and Bibby has held his own.
While Rose tallied 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds, the Bulls looked like a better team with him on the bench on Wednesday, an observation reinforced by his minus-12 mark for the game.
Who gets minutes up front?
Haslem saved the day.
In a surprising non-move, Spoelstra elected to keep Ilgauskas and Dampier inactive for the second straight game on Wednesday, which meant the coach chose to lean on Jamaal Magloire and Haslem as his backup bigs.
And boy, did Haslem make Spoelstra look like a genius.
Fast-break dunks, blocks, silky mid-range jumpers, key rebounds -- you name it -- Haslem brought it during his first extended minutes since going down with a foot injury in November. Haslem totaled 13 points, five rebounds and even dropped two dimes in 23 minutes of reserve action. He provided a discernible emotional and tangible lift for the struggling Heat, and Dwyane Wade called him the MVP of Game 2 afterward.
No one saw this coming. Sure, Heat fans were hoping to see this performance, but who could have honestly expected a performance like this after he fumbled around in seven minutes over a two-game period? Haslem looked like he was running on fumes in the fourth quarter after playing 11 straight minutes, but Spoelstra squeezed every ounce of effort out of Haslem’s body on Wednesday.
The offseason vision was finally realized in the fourth quarter as Miller and Haslem flanked the big three for the first time all season. The Heat’s five highest-paid players took the court, but watched the six-point lead vanish in their five minutes together. Still, you can expect to see that lineup again in the future.
How much of the load can James and Wade carry?
Most of it, but not all.
Bosh was essentially a non-factor in the scoring column on Wednesday night and it didn’t matter. Wade and James led the way, scoring a combined 53 of the Heat’s 85 points, but it also didn’t feel like they were shouldering the entire burden.
They received contributions from unlikely sources. Haslem was the biggest surprise on the night, but Miller also delivered huge minutes alongside the dynamic duo. Haslem and Miller relieved some of the rebounding pressure from Wade and James, while Bibby continued to struggle from long range. Bibby went 1-for-5 from downtown, putting him at a putrid 22.5 percent (9-for-40) beyond the arc in the playoffs, the worst in franchise history with at least 40 attempts.
This was one of the Wade and James’ most impressive defensive games of the season. James bottled up Deng (5-for-15 shooting) while Wade kept everyone he guarded --including Rose -- in check. It’s rare that the Heat win without either Wade or James reaching the 30-point plateau, but they certainly earned the win on the periphery.
One of the biggest takeaways of the game was that James can still dominate the fourth quarter if when he wants to. What people may not realize is that James -- not Wade -- was bringing up the ball in the fourth quarter and finishing possessions with the ball.
You still get the feeling that we haven’t seen the best of Wade or James against Chicago and that may be a frightening thought for the Bulls, now that they’re headed to Miami for two games.