DEERFIELD, Ill. — There wasn’t much else LeBron James could do other than shrug it all off and vow to perform better in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Game 1 certainly didn’t go well for the Miami.
With James and Dwyane Wade struggling, and the Heat getting beaten badly on the boards, Chris Bosh’s 30 points weren’t enough to bail out the Heat in the opener. The top-seeded Chicago Bulls won 103-82, and now have a chance to grab a commanding lead when the series resumes Wednesday night at the United Center.
“We’ve been able to bounce back this year no matter if it’s been the regular season or the postseason,” James said. “Learn from mistakes in the previous game and then move on. We’ve done that. We’re looking forward to the challenge, we’re excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to be here and try to steal homecourt.”
If they don’t get more from James and Wade, the Heat won’t get that chance and a 2-0 deficit more daunting then it sounds. The Bulls never lost more than two in a row on their way to a league-leading 62 wins and their first conference finals appearance since the second championship three-peat 13 years ago. They swept three close games from the Heat during the regular season and are off to a good start in this series.
James and Wade came in on a surge, only to have the plug pulled against one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
Coming off back-to-back games with 35 and 33 points against Boston in the semifinals, James scored just 15 in the opener while hitting 5 of 15 shots. He couldn’t shake Luol Deng or active big men like Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah helping out.
Wade didn’t have much luck, either, after averaging 30.2 points against the Celtics. He finished with 18 points — six in the second half — and the Bulls broke it open down the stretch on their way to a lopsided victory.
“I think we’ve got to play better,” said Deng, who scored 21 points. “I really do. We played really well. If you look at the final score, we won by a lot, but it really wasn’t that kind of game. It really wasn’t. It was tied at the half. They had the lead at some point in the third quarter. So there’s a lot of things we’ve got to get better at.”
He saw too many fastbreaks in the early going, some sloppy ball handling. League MVP Derrick Rose committed three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes but had none in the second half, and in many ways, it was a textbook performance by a team that held opponents to a league-low 43-percent shooting.
Sure, Miami hit just over 47 percent of its shots, but other than Bosh (12 of 18), no one else really stepped up and Miami often looked out of sync.
There was too much isolation, not enough ball movement, patience. Then again, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out Miami’s ball movement often comes out of isolation.
“Miami’s been a good ball-movement team all year,” he said. “They have players that when the ball comes back to them, they can go one-on-one. That’s what makes them so dangerous and tough to guard. Sometimes, your best ball movement comes off isolation because you have to commit two defenders to the player, and once the ball moves, now you’re getting wide open shots or easier shots.”
James said: “You got be patient. It’s harder to attack on the front side of their defense because they load on the strong side. You’ve got to be able to get the ball from one side to another and then attack their defense. They got a lot of length and athleticism.”
And they don’t allow many second chances.
No team outrebounded opponents by a wider margin than the Bulls at 5.74 per game. They owned the Heat on the boards during the regular season and did it again in Game 1, to a 45-33 tune. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to just six for the Heat and outscored them 31-8 on second-chance points.
Miami could go with a bigger rotation and activate Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier, but they would be sacrificing athleticism.
“It’s not about bigger bodies, it’s about wanting the ball,” Bosh said. “Collectively, as a team, we have to do good job of keeping bodies on those bigs. Containing the screen and roll with D-Rose and just going our job like we know we are capable of. We’ve done it all season, we just have to capitalize tomorrow.”
NOTE: It’s no surprise that Gibson got, oh, a few messages after his eyebrow-raising dunk on Wade in Game 1, one of two slams that had people buzzing about the young forward afterward. How many? “Too many,” Gibson said. “I turned my phone off. I just wanted to move on.”