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First, a caveat: The Miami Heat win streak deserves all the respect and admiration it has received. Although it was not enough to overcome the 1971-72 Lakers’ otherworldly streak of 33 games won in a row, the Heat’s streak still remains the second-best of all four major North American sports, ever. They were able to fend off some major performances from some major players during the streak; Jeff Green had a 43 point, seven rebound effort they overcame, Kevin Durant had a 40 point, eight rebound, four assists game, and James Harden almost toppled them with a 36 point, 12 rebound seven assists showing.
But the Chicago Bulls played mightily on Wednesday to overcome the Heat’s long running dominance. Somehow they were able to do it with a hobbled cast that had Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and their star Derrick Rose watching from the sidelines.
Though the Bulls haven’t been very successful against the Heat in the playoffs since the Big Three conspired to land in South Beach, they’ve been 6-3 in the regular season against them. But that success was achieved before the Heat went into overdrive, and before the Bulls looked like an infirmary. The Heat were also projected to have a 64 percent chance of beating the Bulls last night on their road to 28. But the basketball gods had other plans.
Coming into this game the Miami Heat’s bench was a major part of their success. In the two games prior to last night’s bout with Chicago the Heat’s bench was an astronomically good 22-of-38, or about 58 percent, from 3-point land. Ray Allen himself has accounted for a lot of that success as he’s been shooting 58 percent for the last six games. On Wednesday the Heat’s bench shot a somewhat productive 37.5 percent from long-range, but the startling statistic is that it only made eight field goal attempts from afar. In contrast, the Heat’s starting players (namely LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Mario Chalmers—Dwyane Wade didn’t even attempt a three!) shot 12 times from beyond. But they, too, struggled: 33 percent from the arc.
Over the course of the 27-game win streak, Miami was shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from long-rage—but Chicago’s stingy defense held them to 48.1 percent and a 35 percent three-point percentage, which in many ways was the difference. Though Miami also played tight defense, forcing the Bulls to 18 turnovers, about three more than their average during the streak, Chicago did an exceptional job of staying on their feet, closing out shooters, and essentially only giving open lanes to LeBron in an effort to crowd and frustrate him physically. And that they did. As LeBron is known to do, he complained about the Bulls’ physicality after last night’s loss.
Despite exceptional efforts from Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng on LeBron and Wade, the Miami Duo still reached their combined-points-per-game over the stretch (which was at 49.8) with a combined 50 last night. But nothing seemed to come easy for them. A supremely underrated Chris Bosh also had a troubling night as many of his butter jumpers went in-and-out over the course of the game. The Heat bench, too, came off as a non-factor despite contributing with 26 points. The Bulls’ bench, for example, only poured in 22, but Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson and even seldom-used Daequan Cook contributed at integral times.
The most important revelation of the Bulls’ victory is one that the whole league will now have to consider. If you push around LeBron enough, he starts to get in his own way, and the Heat go with him. Of course, pushing around a 6-foot-8 rocketing man who weighs well over 260 pounds is easier said than done.
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