by Carlos Nazario
The Chicago Bulls met the Miami Heat last night for the third time this season. Again, there was a playoff atmosphere, and again the Bulls bench came through and played a key role in winning the game, 96-86, in a thrilling overtime game.
Unlike the last game, reigning MVP Derrick Rose played, but it felt as if he did not. He tallied 25 minutes, but shot 1-13 for 2 points. He went scoreless in the first half for the first time in his pro career, and the second half was not much better.
Backup CJ Watson had Rose’s back. He had 16 points, 9 assists and 3 steals. He also hit the game-tying trey to tie the game with 2.2 seconds left in the game. Carlos Boozer had a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bulls’ bench outscored the Heat’s bench 47-7. Helping out Watson were Taj Gibson, who had 11 points 5 rebounds, and Kyle Korver, who shot 5-6 from the three point arc and had 17 points. Omer Asik also contributed with 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
It was that bench that gave the Bulls a spark. The Heat starting five had a 10 point lead, and the Benchmob came in and gave the Bulls a 7 point lead. Lebron and Wade came back and they regained the lead and control of the game.
Another key stat was the Heat scoring only 9 fastbreak points. This Heat team likes to run up and down the court, and have problems when they are forced to play a half court offense. The Bulls got back on defense and limited that big part of the Heat offense.
Coach Tom Thibodeau made the gutsy call of taking out Noah and Rose in the 4th quarter in favor of Watson and Asik. He put Rose in late in the 4th, but it was to give Watson a breather.
Watson cracked on his game afterwards. “I was channeling my inner John Lucas.” When asked about the benching, Rose quipped “I’m fine. You know me. Anything for a win. He (Thibodeau) felt that lineup was going to win the game. It won the game. I don’t feel bad about anything.’’
The win puts the Bulls 4 games ahead of the Heat for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. With 7 games remaining, they now have a stranglehold on that lead.
Now all that is remaining is getting Rip Hamilton and Derrick Rose in playing shape in time for the playoffs. It looks like the first round matchup will be against the New York Knicks. There is still another game against the Heat in the regular season (April 19), but that game might not have the same intensity as the last 3 games have been.
After 3 games thus far, the Eastern Conference Finals is looking to be one great, tough war this season. Game on!