And the beat goes on for the top team in the Eastern Conference. Chicago lost the games first two quarters, but balanced things out by winning the third and forth quarters to force overtime. In OT, it was no contest, as the Bulls had much more balance and less predictability, on their way to a 96-86 victory.
Is there anybody out there who can recall such a turnaround in public perception in less than a calendar year? Less than 12 months ago, we were fascinated with the dominance of Derrick Rose, and now there are whispers that this Bulls team is good enough to win without their superstar. Thursday night proved the whispers true, as Chicago won in spite of Rose (1/13 shooting and a -27 plus/minus ratio). This game won’t go down as a game won without Rose (although they would have won in regulation), but the Bulls are 15-7 without the reigning MVP. That winning percentage would rank them third in the East, with one of the teams ahead of them being the Rose led Bulls.
The Bulls balance drives their success, and Thursday night was a prime example. They had seven players tally between 6 and 19 points while the Heat had exactly 0.
Long range shooting is also a plus when comparing the prospects of Chicago and other contenders. They buried as many three pointers as the Heat attempted (11), and outscored Miami by 21 from distance. Kyle Korver led the charge, as he buried 5/6 from behind the arc. He extended his streak of consecutive games with a 3PM to 20, and has made multiple threes in 54.2% of the games this season. CJ Watson forced the extra period by draining a contested three in the waning seconds.
Taj Gibson gave the Bulls 29 good minutes (11 points, 5 rebounds, and a +27 plus/minus ratio), but the statistically odd part of his game came elsewhere. The USC product recorded 19.4% of the total fouls in this game on his way to fouling out.
Miami was exposed in this game, but it is not as if the formula is any big surprise. The “Big 3” will get their points, but if you can shut down the supporting cast, you’ve got a great chance. Bosh, James, and Wade scored 82.6% of the teams points, and no other player from the Heat scored more than four points. The tremendous trio went cold at the wrong time, as they struggled to close the game in the fourth quarter and went 0-5 in OT. No other Heat player attempted a field goal in overtime.
Early in the season LeBron James was given credit for his willingness to attack the paint, and not settling for jump shots. Well, he has relapsed a few times since, and the Heat are an average team at best when he does. He shot 6+ triples last night, as the Heat fell to 2-3 when he does so.
The Bulls defense was suffocating, making it a terrifying proposition that this team could be much better if Rose puts it together down the stretch. The Heat are still my pick to come out of the East, but I’ve got less and less confidence in it as we approach the postseason.