HEAT 85 - Bulls 75 Game 2 Recap

CHICAGO – Two days before Game 2, Erik Spoelstra stood side-by-side along the gymnasium wall with Udonis Haslem. The power forward was one morning removed from playing a meaningless four minutes with the first game of the series already out of reach, which Spoelstra had said was too little to make any sort of judgment on.

He had had many battles over the years with Haslem, Spoelstra said, over whether he could play with an injury or not. And as the two stood there before practice, Haslem appeared to be making his case once again.

“There was a look in his eye that, I knew it was time,” Spoelstra said following the Miami HEAT’s 85-75 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Time for what, exactly, he didn’t know. Jumping from four minutes to rotation time on the floor seemed like far too big a leap, but when the HEAT found themselves dealing with frontcourt foul trouble early in Game 2, Haslem got the call.

That’s the clear story. Even after Spoelstra spent two days saying how no single lineup change or adjustment was going to offer an instant cure, Haslem played 23 minutes, scored 13 points, dunked three times, hit a pair of mid-range jumpers and pulled down five rebounds. He made every defensive rotation, absorbed contact tipped offensive rebounds away from the Bulls.

According to Spoelstra, it was inspirational.

“He’s an absolute championship warrior,” Spoelstra said. “Really what he did tonight, it’s remarkable.”

There will be plenty about that in the coming days, and plenty about LeBron James’ nine points in the final 4:30 that first broke a 73-73 tie and quickly sealed the double-digit victory. Less-than-desirable shots for most of those points, but shots forced by Chicago’s usual paint-packing defense. As he did against Boston, twice, James threw out the labels for good and bad shots and hit what he had to hit in order to win.

But in the first game, neither James nor Dwyane Wade even had the opportunity to mount a late scoring run because their team had been so thoroughly out-worked on the glass. And that’s where Game 2 was different.

Allowing 17 offensive boards three nights after 19 doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment, but it was. In the first quarter, the HEAT were simply surviving a recurring nightmare from Game 1 as the Bulls pulled in seven extra possessions. Once Haslem was introduced into the lineup, however, things changed.

“When the ball was up on the board, they were in the fight,” Tom Thibodeau said.

In the end, Spoelstra was right. Haslem may have inspired the team, but the team simply played harder, better and more focused. They boxed out below the rim and pursued the ball above it, and though the Bulls grabbed another seven offensive boards in the third quarter, that number fell to one in the fourth.

Everything else that Chicago enjoyed in Game 1 evened out. After shooting 10-of-21 from deep, they shot 3-of-13, including a wide-open miss from Kyle Korver late in the fourth quarter that could have held off James’ flurry. After scoring 31 second-chance points on 13-of-21 shooting, the Bulls earned 18 on 5-of-15 shooting. After 23 assists, just 15.

The one thing which sustained was Miami’s defense. The Bulls shot 37 percent on first attempts in the first game, and Wednesday they shot 34.1 percent on all their shots. Derrick Rose lamented afterwards that he was missing a ton of shots that he usually made, but in the second half, every shot was challenged at the rim by one, two or even three HEAT players.

Rose (7-of-23) wasn’t able to overcome that swarm. One game in this series, with both team’s maintaining exceptional defensive standards, Rose will, but as was so commonly pointed out before this matchup began, Miami has two players capable of doing what Rose is. In Game 2, it was James winning on elite talent, and he was able to do so because the team around him fought for every ball, even as the teams were mired in a 14-10 fourth-quarter war of attrition.

‘That fourth quarter is probably what’s going to epitomize this entire series,” Spoelstra said. “It’s an absolute street fight for both teams.”

The question we’re left with now after Miami tied the series, 1-1, is what answers have presented themselves to us. We know the Bulls will come back on the offensive glass, that there will be incredible defense, that Chicago will make more threes and so will Miami, but what has this game feeling like a victory-and-a-half is, other than home-court advantage currently belonging to the HEAT, Haslem.

Spoelstra played 11 players against the Bulls Wednesday night, in part due to foul trouble, in part because he was searching. With Haslem’s resurgence, he may have a frontcourt rotation of Bosh-James-Haslem and Joel Anthony. A rotation that can excel defensively, grab rebounds, and most importantly, fight.