Bulls reminded of challenge they face

MIAMI -- Miami's Game 2 rout of the Chicago Bulls was the most predictable blowout of the season, a humiliating whuppin' that not only evened the series but also restored order to the playoff basketball universe, at least temporarily.

What looked like Ali-Frazier 48 hours earlier looked like Ali-Chuck Wepner Wednesday night. A battle it wasn't. By the time the fourth quarter began, Game 2 had spiraled into the equivalent of the victor burying the loser alive and then dancing on his gravesite.

Two of the most impressive wins in Bulls' playoff history were followed by an epic, technical-foul filled face slap, the worst playoff loss in the club's history, a vengeful Miami beatdown that started just before halftime and lasted well into the fourth quarter.

Miami will look at it as a statement game that clearly puts the champs back in control of the series as it moves to Chicago. The Bulls will have no choice but to believe that even this trashing, which at one point reached 104-58, counts as only one loss. If somebody told them they could lose one game by 50 but still return to Chicago with the series tied, they'd take it in a heartbeat.

If the most recently defiled team is the one that is most motivated to win the next game in these playoffs, as Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said recently about the postseason in general, the Bulls ought to be in pretty good shape to get some revenge of their own Friday night in Game 3. Or as Joakim Noah said after being ejected, "We got punched in the mouth tonight. We'll be back in two days. That ball is gonna go up and we'll be there."

Fortunately for the Bulls, from all indications, neither Noah nor Taj Gibson, who was ejected after his own profanity-laced tirade, will miss any further action. Both left the court in close enough to a "timely fashion" to avoid Police Commissioner David Stern from docking them any more time.

Asked if he'd ever seen a game with nine technical fouls (six against the Bulls) Miami's Shane Battier said, "Well, there's a first time for everything." And Noah added, "Yeah, I would call that not keeping your cool. Not being very Zen."

It was as if the Bulls had never seen a road playoff game in their lives, as if they didn't anticipate that Miami was going to get the benefit of every call, down 0-1. But on the other hand, the Bulls also played as if they didn't know Miami was going to come out throwing haymakers. And indeed, the Heat played such a superior game, beginning of course with LeBron James, that they could have gone short-handed, 4-on-5, the entire night and beat the Bulls by 20.

They probably were just an undermanned and overmatched team stunned by the first punch to the chin and helpless to do anything about it thereafter. Miami's 30-30-30 point output the final three quarters looks even worse when you consider a team that prides itself on defense allowed the opponent to make 60 percent of its shots.

It was a reversal and then some of Monday night's Game 1 Bulls' victory, which still resonated in the Heat locker room two days later. "It was a punch in the gut ... but this team always responds well," Chris Bosh said. "We had to have an edge. They took one away from us; we didn't have that edge in Game 1 and we paid for it."

But they more than repaid the favor, and now it's the Bulls who will spend the next day-plus hearing about what a stink bomb they lit in Miami and how they'll surely be swept from here on by the champs. And no media outlet is going to let them have it the way their coach will.

Tom Thibodeau, while appearing relatively calm in the immediate aftermath, said he wanted no part of blaming the referees, which his players did the entire game.

"You come in here," Thibs said, "you're not gonna get calls and that's the reality. Instead of sprinting back to get set we're complaining to the official and they're laying it in. ... We got sidetracked and you can't do that. ... You have to have poise under pressure."

To his credit Thibodeau went right to the Bulls needing to have greater effort, determination, concentration and most importantly, discipline.

"You can't allow [calls] to get you sidetracked so you don't do your job," Thibodeau said. He then went on to rip his own team from shying away from contact, for lacking the proper will and determination.

But it's fair to wonder, if indeed Miami has rediscovered its groove, whether will and determination will be enough, because if both teams have it in equal measure and the Bulls are again without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, Miami's going to win and perhaps win big, even in Chicago.

When LeBron goes for 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first half, the Bulls need Jimmy Butler AND Deng to counter, and it looks quite possible the Bulls won't have Deng for Game 3. One thing the Bulls will have to figure out is what they want to do when LeBron, all 6-foot-8 of him, jumps out on the perimeter to eclipse 5-foot-9 (if he was in heels) Nate Robinson. Asked about LeBron's disruptive defense on Robinson, who buried Miami in Game 1 with 27 points, Bosh said, "When LeBron wants to take the bull by the horn he will." And he did.

Of course, the Bulls would love it if only LeBron was killing them. But Ray Allen hit 5 of 7 shots, Norris Cole made 7 of 9, Dwyane Wade made 7 of 11. The bad thing about Game 2 for the Bulls isn't necessarily that they lost, but they allowed Miami to find its championship form so quickly, so brazenly.

Bosh wasn't hearing it, reminding me, "Hey, they did what they came here to do, which is win that one game."
And Noah sounded the same thing when he said, "It's not the end of the world. It's 1-1 and there's going to be a big Game 3 in Chicago."

Certainly, Miami doesn't forget that it won the last two playoff games these two teams played in Chicago, which is to say Games 2 and 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. Home court doesn't determine all that much with these two teams, which is why the Bulls and Heat, in the LeBron vs. Thibs era, are 9-9.

Each will pop the other in the mouth. Each will make creative adjustments. Each wants desperately to win. But Miami has LeBron and the Bulls don't. Miami is whole and the Bulls, minus its two best players and three of its top seven, are not. And Miami, as every player in uniform and coach Spoelstra reminded us Wednesday night, are defending a championship here. And if any fan base should understand the zeal with which a champion defends its title it is Bulls fans, with LeBron being to the game now what Michael Jordan was four different times in the 1990s.

It's going to take three more brilliant performances, at the very least, to get the result the Bulls got in Game 1. And anything less than that will land the Bulls, as they found out in the most humiliating way Wednesday night, in the meat grinder.