Posted May 16 2011 11:01AM
CHICAGO -- The facial was not applied with cold cream, a hot towel or even cucumber slices for the eyes. Instead, it was rudely slapped on, by Taj Gibson, with the force of not one but two hands, enough to leave Dwyane Wade and the Heat disoriented and, unless things change, distressed.
Seriously, when a guy comes off the Bulls' bench to produce a more sensational Game 1 highlight than any from Derrick Rose, the league MVP, wouldn't you be a little alarmed if you're Miami right now?
It wasn't just the Gibson dunk on Wade that placed the Heat on red alert. It was the effort plays -- defense but mostly rebounding and second-chance baskets (31 points worth) -- that immediately made Chicago the speed bump Miami hasn't seen in its otherwise smooth road through the playoffs.
So the result was a 21-point Chicago beatdown, and now it's not about the Heat trying to overcome the player of the year, but the coach of the year, who may be the best weapon the Bulls own in this series.
Tom Thibodeau was more deserving of his award than Rose was of his award. That's because Rose arguably isn't even the best point guard in basketball (Chris Paul), and it's debatable if he's the most dangerous player in the East finals. Meanwhile, with Phil Jackson somewhere in Montana smoking peyote -- is that what you do with peyote? -- is there any question that Thibodeau is the finest coach working in basketball at the moment?
Just as they did all season, the Bulls on Sunday won with defense, a Thibodeau trademark, holding Miami to 82 points. But that wasn't the only reason the Bulls romped. Chicago dropped 103 points on the second-best defensive team in basketball. The Bulls might be out-starred, with The Big Three vs. The Only One, but they served notice here that they will not be outworked or out-manned.
Only Chris Bosh, who curled to the basket all night for with 30 points and nine rebounds, came through for Miami. The Bulls? There was Rose, of course, but also Luol Deng, who hassled LeBron James into just five baskets and four turnovers. And Gibson, who put Wade on a poster. And Joakim Noah, who had eight offensive rebounds, two more than the entire Heat team. And Carlos Boozer, who chipped in nine rebounds. And C.J. Watson, who had five assists.
Essentially, the Bulls are deeper than Maya Angelou and therefore more dangerous to the Heat than the inexperienced Sixers or handicapped Celtics were. More importantly, the Bulls have all bought into Thibs' philosophy of grit and defense and performing their specific roles.
"We knew when we hired him that he was someone who emphasized defense," said Gar Forman, the Bulls' president of basketball operations. "But we also discovered just how well-rounded a coach he is. Tom was the right guy for the personnel we had in place."
Meanwhile, after getting frustrated in the fourth quarter, when the game broke open for good, Wade and LeBron (combined 11 second-half points) resorted to one-on-one basketball. That's when they're at their worst, and that's when the Bulls knew they had them.
"We've just got to make sure LeBron and Wade see bodies around them," said Boozer. "Get them to take tough shots. They'll make some of them, but the more uncomfortable they are, the better off we are."
This is what Thibs does best: find a way to limit if not stop the other team's best player. Joe Johnson of the Hawks had nothing in the final two games of the East semis because the Bulls forced him to give the ball to teammates who weren't used to taking volume shots, or important shots. That's the choice LeBron and Wade were left with in Game 1: Shoot through two and sometimes three defenders, or pass the ball. Only Bosh knew what to do with those passes.
The Bulls want to see James Jones beat them, or Mike Bibby, or Mario Chalmers or Mike Miller or Joel Anthony. Good luck with that. The Heat were so desperate for rebounds that they even dusted off Jamaal Magloire, who had played only three minutes in the postseason, and whose 10 minutes Sunday resulted in only one offensive rebound: his own missed dunk.
Thanks to Oprah Winfrey, who'll use the United Center the next few days to tape her final show, Spoelstra has 48 hours to figure out how to out-coach the coach of the year. Can he get something out of a Miami bench that can't compare to the talent sitting on the other bench? How does he get Anthony to keep Noah (14 rebounds) off the glass? Can a 3-point shooter emerge from Jones or Bibby or Miller, enough to punish the Bulls for doubling Wade and LeBron? How about encouraging those two to keep the ball moving in the half court? And really, is Magloire the best remaining big guy you've got?
"The most important thing is that we bounce back," Spoelstra said. "You make adjustments and move on."
Realizing that another loss Wednesday could put them in a deep bind against Rose and Thibs, the Heat must find a way to save ... facial.
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