With the TNT broadcast crew safely relocated inside Miami’s American Airlines Arena (you may have heard Charles Barkley was dodging both towels and barbs when they tried working outside…), the Chuckster took the opportunity to note if he was Commissioner he would allow a player to pick one fan each game to bring onto the court and beat the hell outta them.
And then Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals began…and the teams started to beat the hell outta each other. One of the more physical, grinding series in recent years was on once more.
It was another strange start with Derrick Rose launching a couple inappropriate outside shots and missing an easy layup…while Dwyane Wade miscalculated a wide-open dunk and looked out of sorts. The game was as helter-skelter and slam-dance as the prior one but the major difference this time was Chicago was putting into action early what we know is their key to winning.
The best way the Bulls can defeat Miami is to force numerous turnovers, get easy baskets in transition…and continue to manage the glass at the offensive end and convert second chances. They were doing just that during the opening quarter.
Yet, Derrick and his teammates also continued to settle for occasional futile attempts from the outside and at the end of the first the Bulls were only up 19-16. They were settling for jumpers while the Heat was driving the paint and getting to the foul line to offset Chicago’s early success at following their recipe for victory.
Miami weathered Chicago’s intensity and went on an early run in the second period to take a nine-point lead…only to promptly commit three straight turnovers as the Bulls stuck to their formula. The momentum created by their defense sent the Bulls on a Rose-led run of 18-7 over the final five minutes to send the teams off at the half with Chicago sporting a 46-44 advantage…the crowd buzzing well into intermission over two thunderous Rose dunks in that successful end-of-the-quarter span.
Chicago fans were hopeful not only because of how the Bulls finished off the half but how Miami stayed in the game primarily as a result of free throws. To the Heat’s credit, they were aggressive on offense and carried the ball inside whenever possible, getting calls and converting shots. The Bulls had to feel the discrepancy in free throw opportunities would even out as their offense is predicated on Rose driving the paint and forcing whistles, or getting his rebounds and being fouled on putbacks.
Chicago led at the end of three 68-63. It was much of the same in that quarter, both teams slugging it out on each possession. Fact was, the Bulls led for most of the game doing what they needed to do, clawing and scratching away. They needed to claw and scratch - Rose was on his way to a horrific 8 for 27 shooting night. He was not driving the lane and not getting calls.
Then the fourth quarter started…and there was a Mike Miller sighting…
Much like Udonis Haslem stepped onto the floor earlier in the series and gave the Heat a kickstart…Miller started firing away and the momentum started to slide in Miami’s direction.
Meanwhile, Miami’s defensive commitment now had Rose covered one-on-one with LeBron James…which meant Chicago had to recalibrate their primary (only) offensive plan of “Derrick down the lane.”
The Heat had some truly horrible offensive possessions as the final quarter wound down, more due to their settling for jump shots and abandoning their take-to-the-rim philosophy…perhaps inspired by Miller’s sudden success and thinking they could finish off Chicago the “easy way.” They could not.
Eight seconds left and James, to his credit driving forward again, was called for an offensive foul. Game tied…and Bulls had a 2-2 series tie in their hands.
Inexplicably, the team that loved running pick and rolls for him all series long left Derrick Rose on a lonely, isolated island with James. One air ball later, the game was headed to overtime.
The overtime was all Heat. Chris Bosh, who hit a clutch jumper with just over a minute left in regulation, scored the first four in the extra stanza. Wade, who was off his game most of the night (5 for 16), came alive and not only made a key shot but blocked two in OT to seal the win, 101-93.
There were forty-seven regulation minutes played prior to the last one. A lot is being made of the fact Chicago appeared to have put no thought at all into their final possession. It is hard to ignore because Rose is not a jump shooting MVP and was being covered by the most athletic, top-notch defensive player in the NBA.
Earlier in the series, the talk was of too many pick and rolls for the MVP who can make his own shots off the dribble. Rose needed one of those with eight seconds left, didn’t get it…and the Heat are one win away from the NBA Finals.
Playoff wins come in razor-thin margins and moments. As did last night. Chicago fans can only wonder what might have happened if the final eight seconds had been given some more thought? The right guy – the only guy – had the ball. Good start. He needed some help.
Now, Rose doesn’t just need some help. He and the Bulls need three straight wins.