The Miami Heat, in the absence of Chicago starters Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, has feasted on the Bulls’ depleted squad. And nowhere was the effect more roundly felt than in Chicago’s United Center Monday night. Early in the fourth period, vacant red upholstered seats outnumbered Bulls fans while Chicago scored an all-time playoff low of 65 points - thereby allowing the Heat to win, 88-65, and take a commanding three games to one lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Bulls couldn’t hit anything for 48 minutes. Their field goal percentage was an abysmal 26%, and they made only 11% of their 3-pointers. The Bulls did manage to get four players into double figures; but Nate Robinson, who’d been Chicago’s anchor in their Game 1 victory with 27 points, was all but invisible: scoring 0 points in 32 minutes on the floor, with no baskets in 12 attempts. Bright spots included Bulls bench players Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who had 11 points and 4 assists in 22 minutes of playing time, and Taj Gibson, who had 9 rebounds to go with 10 points in 21 minutes on the court.
The Heat got great production from their star forward LeBron James, who scored 27 points and added 7 rebounds and 8 assists – despite five turnovers. In fact, Miami doubled up Chicago in assists, 24-12. James was joined in double-figure scoring by Chris Bosh, who had 14 points and 6 rebounds; but the third member of Miami’s dominating triumvirate, Dwyane Wade, struggled with only 6 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the floor. The Heat also got some good production off the bench from guard Norris Cole, who added 7 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in 21 minutes, and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who contributed 9 points and 4 rebounds in just under 14 minutes of court time.
As demoralized as this Bulls team was in the game, it was curious, to say the least, that Miami coach Erik Spoelstra chose to leave James and Bosh in for nearly 80 combined minutes. One could reasonably conclude that the Heat are not taking any chances in their effort to finish this series in five games to reach the Eastern Conference finals again.
Memphis Proves That to Prevail, You Must Go Inside
It’s been said many times that if you’re a team that fights hard inside, you will generally win, and if you’re a perimeter scoring team, you won’t. Memphis, up two games to one in their Western Conference semifinal playoff against Oklahoma City, confirmed this in textbook fashion as they defeated the Thunder, 103-97, in overtime to leave Oklahoma City teetering on the brink of elimination.
The fifteenth straight capacity crowd at Memphis’ FedEx Forum was treated to the paint power of the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who each scored 23 points and grabbed a combined 21 rebounds, to which Gasol added six blocked shots. Memphis's interior attack was supplemented very nicely by guard Mike Conley’s perimeter play, netting 24 points, including 4 of 10 from three-point land.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant led all scorers with 27 points. But when the game was on the line in overtime, he was as cold as ice, going 0-for-5 from the floor (the Thunder as a team was only 1-of-9 in shooting). Memphis also protected the ball better, turning the ball over only 7 times to Oklahoma City’s 15 (of which 4 each were committed by Durant and guard Reggie Jackson).
The Thunder had some great production off the bench by Nick Collison (10 points) and Kevin Martin (18 points). However, veteran 3 point specialist Derek Fisher was only 2-of-8 shooting (3 points), with only one three ball. Overall, the story here was scoring in the paint, where the Grizzlies banged their way to 44 points against only 30 for Oklahoma City. And even though the Thunder out-rebounded Memphis 44-41, the Grizzlies converted their offensive boards into 21 second-chance points to only 10 for Oklahoma City. And that was a major reason why Memphis is now up 3-1.