by Carlos Nazario
The first match-up between the Chicago Bull and Miami Heat promised to be a hard-fought, intense playoff preview. It was that and more. The teams did not disappoint in an exciting 97-93 victory by the Heat.
Lebron James led the Heat with 35 points, while Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 34 points. It was getting points 35 and 36 that led to trouble for him.
The Heat threatened to blow the game open early in a game of runs. Four minutes into the game, Rose already had 2 fouls and had to sit. The Heat took over in Rose’s absence, taking an 11 point lead. Coach Tom Thibodeau then put Rose back in after only 4 minutes and the Bulls went on a 17-6 run to tie it up early in the 2nd quarter. Rose played the rest of the way (except for a few seconds right before the half), played 45 minutes and committed only one foul the rest of the way.
The Heat then took a 12 point lead midway through the 2nd quarter. It was a dunk fest for Lebron James, including hurdling over 5’11” John Lucas III. The Bulls hung in with them, however, and were down by five at the half.
The 2nd half was similar to watching a heavyweight title match. The Eastern Conference champions Heat trying to take over, landing haymakers on the Bulls, who took the hits and landed some shots of their own. The teams fought to a draw in the 3rd quarter, each scoring 20 points.
The Heat went on the attack to start off the 4th quarter and again had an 11 point lead. The Bulls were not moving the ball and looked a little ragged and tired. After a timeout, though, they used whatever they had left to make a final run. Late in the game, they actually had a shot at taking a lead. With 22 seconds left, the Bulls were down 94-93 and had the ball. This is when things got crazy.
Rose was fouled by Udonis Haslem and had a chance to give the Bulls a lead. He made all 29 free throws he took in the 4th quarter this season but incredibly missed both free throws. James got the rebound and was fouled. He went to the line and, you guessed it, missed both of his free throws as well. The Heat got the ball back on a controversial inadvertent whistle and Mario Chalmers got fouled. He split his free throws and the Bulls were down 2 with about 9 seconds remaining.
The ball was in-bounded to Carlos Boozer, who missed a wide open Rip Hamilton along the baseline. He instead gave it to Rose in traffic and Rose made a move to get open and took a floater. It did not go in and the Bulls ran out of time.
Afterwards, Rose shouldered all the responsibility. “This is so unreal right now, knowing that I had the chance to change the game, and this time it didn’t work out. I know my will to win is still very high, but I guarantee the next time those shots are going down.”
Rose went on, “It was definitely tough, all I can say is I guess God [does] everything for a reason. I’ve been in those situations before, knocked them down, but to miss both [free throws] – I let my team down. The only thing I can do is learn from it.”
Even though it did not work out for Rose on Sunday, his teammates are still behind him. Joakim Noah expressed the sentiment for Rose. “Derrick has always been someone who’s his biggest critic,” he said. “He takes losses very hard. He wouldn’t be the competitor that he is if he weren’t. At the end of the day, we have his back. I’ll go to war with him any day. I’ve never been around a competitor like that in my life.”
There were a few things to make note of from this game. First, Rip Hamilton will make an impact on this team during the playoffs. He only had 11 points, but made some key plays to keep the Bulls in it and hounded Dwyane Wade all game long. Wade only scored 15 points himself, none of them while being guarded by Hamilton. He also freed the court up for Kyle Korver, who hit 3 treys.
The other thing the Bulls can take from Sunday is that this Miami Heat team is the same team from last year. Yes, they are still great, but they have not gotten better. Shane Battier was supposed to come in and really improve the bench, but he only made one shot in the game. Also, Eddy Curry is supposed to come in and clog the middle to help the Miami bigs, but he played only 2 minutes and the only thing he did was commit 2 fouls.
Just think of this basketball fans. This was only the first of four, yes FOUR games between the two during the regular season. Rose said before the game that it would be “Just another game” but after this classic, ANY game between these two powerhouses will be more than that.
After this lockout and crazy, shortened season, no matter which team wins, the fans win as well.