Derrick Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng contained LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls struck first in the Eastern Conference finals, pulling away to beat the Miami Heat 103-82 in Game 1 on Sunday night.
The Bulls are off to a good start in this series after sweeping the Heat during the regular season. They went on a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter, then pulled away in the fourth. As the final minutes ticked away, fans could not contain themselves, chanting “Over-rated!” and “Beat the Heat!” Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago, and they’ll certainly take another performance like this.
Rose settled down after committing three early turnovers and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all. Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals, seven rebounds and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joakim Noah had 14 rebounds and the Bulls pounded the Heat on the glass, 45-33. Chris Bosh led Miami with 30 points and nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade scored 18 points, but the Heat simply were overmatched down the stretch.
The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third when the Bulls made their run, reeling off 10 straight and seizing the momentum. Rose and Bogans started it by nailing 3-pointers. A steal by Bogans against Wade led to two free throws by Rose after he got knocked to the floor going for a fast-break layup.
Then, after a timeout, Noah blocked a layup by Wade and scored seconds later on a layup off an inbounds along the Bulls’ baseline, making it 67-58. The Heat’s James Jones stopped the run with a 3, but the Bulls simply weren’t about to be stopped. When Deng hit a 3 with 1:15 left, the crowd jumped to its feet and let out a roar. More important, that started a 14-3 run that stretched into the fourth and put this one away.
Whether it was Boozer feeding Omer Asik for a dunk early in the fourth or Deng racing in to put back his own missed jumper after a 3 by James, there was plenty for the Chicago fans to cheer during that stretch. They were loving it when Ronnie Brewer stole pass from Mario Chalmers and hit two free throws, then dunked to make it 80-66. And when C.J. Watson buried a 3 to put the lead at 17, they just about came unglued. For at least some Chicago fans, beating Miami to get to the NBA finals would be sweet redemption after what happened during the summer.
With enough salary-cap room for two stars, the Bulls went after James, Wade and Bosh in the summer, hoping to land some combination of the two. You know the rest of that story. The Bulls wound up with a league-leading 62 wins after hiring Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau and beefing up their roster with Boozer and solid role players. The biggest boost, of course, came from Rose, who emerged as the league’s youngest MVP and ended James’ two-year run while helping Chicago match its best record since the 1997-98 season, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second three-peat.
Along the way, the Bulls swept three close games from the Heat, winning them by a combined eight points. James missed the first with an ankle injury, Bosh went 1 for 18 in the second and the Heat shed tears after falling to Chicago again in March. That was during a five-game losing streak, but Miami regrouped after that, winning 15 of 18 down the stretch and then knocking out both Philadelphia and Boston in five games. This time, Bosh had it going right from the start, scoring 17 points in the first half. But even with their big man coming up big, the Heat were locked in a 48-48 halftime tie. Rose scored 12 for Chicago and Deng had 11 while doing his best to contain James. But the biggest cheers in the early going went to Taj Gibson when he took a feed from C.J. Watson in transition and threw down a vicious two-handed slam over Wade for a three-point play in the opening minutes of the second quarter. The crowd roared, and even Wade was impressed. He clapped about six times after seeing the replay on the scoreboard.
This is the sixth time these teams have met in the playoffs, with the Bulls sweeping the Heat in the first round in 1992, 1996 and 2007 and beating them in five games in the 1997 conference finals. Miami beat Chicago in six games in the first round in 2006. … Wade, the Chicago product, grew up rooting for the Bulls. That doesn’t mean he’s happy to see them. “No. . There is no part of me that is happy,” he said. … James was a little sleepy at the morning shootaround. He had Tweeted around 5:30 a.m. that he was too excited as was breaking down video until he fell back asleep. “It took me about an hour-and-a-half to get back to sleep,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m a little sleepy now. I’m excited about the opportunity tonight.” … Thibodeau is the first rookie head coach since Indiana’s Larry Bird in 1998 and the fifth in the past 25 years to reach the conference finals, according to information provided by the Bulls from the Elias Sports Bureau.