Bulls at Heat, Game 4: 5 things to watch
May, 24, 2011
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Chris Bosh has outscored LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in the conference finals.
Will Chris Bosh continue to flourish?
Who expected Chris Bosh to lead the Heat in scoring in this series? It’s safe to say Carlos Boozer, who previously went on the record to say the Heat had only two great players, didn’t see it coming.
Bosh thrived in the midrange Sunday, nailing six of his 10 shots outside 10 feet. As impressive as that is, you can’t expect him to convert 60 percent of his jump shots going forward. It’s unsustainable. The Bulls actually did a good job of contesting his midrange jumpers, but Bosh simply knocked them down.
The successful and sustainable Bosh is the one we saw early in the second quarter after Taj Gibson was jawing at him in a one-on-one situation. Bosh faced up, ignored Gibson’s barking, dribbled to his left, spun to his right and blew right by the savvy defender en route to the rim. As he does so well, Bosh drew contact and worked two free throws. When he attacks off the dribble, few bigs can keep up without making illegal contact.
But defensively, Bosh is making an impact as well. He has been vital to the Heat’s smothering pick-and-roll coverage on Derrick Rose. When he isn’t showing hard at the point of attack, Bosh is multitasking; he anchors the paint, guards multiple big men, and impedes Roses’ penetration. Without Bosh’s presence, Rose can take a direct route to the rim.
With regard to Bosh, the Bulls have to pick their poison: Do they suffer offensively by calling on Gibson full-time, or do they continue with the rotating part-time assignments like they have? We’ll learn in Game 4.
Should the Bulls prefer LeBron the facilitator?
Too often our eyes are drawn to the wrong column in the stat line to evaluate a player's performance on a given night.
Take a glimpse at James' Game 3 numbers and you'd rightly conclude it was a nice, but unexceptional performance (by LeBron standards) -- 22 points on 13 field goal attempts, 9-for-9 from the line, six rebounds, a couple of blocks and 10 assists without a turnover.
Those last two numbers might be the most telling. When you rewatch Game 3 and look for the really big buckets for Miami, there's a good chance you'll see a pass from James to a Heat scorer.
That 3-pointer from Mike Bibby midway through the third quarter that gave the Heat a lead they wouldn't surrender? Kickout from Mr. James.
That consecutive pair of Udonis Haslem jumpers from the left side toward the end of the period to extend the lead? Those were gifts from point guard LeBron, leveraging the defense.
Four of Bosh's 13 field goals (and two of his five trips to the line)? Deliveries from James.
The bedrock principle of the Bulls' top-ranked defense is a fierce commitment to pressure the area around the ball. But what happens when the opposing player can manipulate that investment and find open teammates across the floor? Do you pull back, even if it means compromising that bedrock principle?
If LeBron continues to distribute and facilitate as brilliantly in Game 4 as he did in Game 3, this will be single most difficult question Tom Thibodeau will have to answer Tuesday night.
Is the productivity from the Heat’s point guards a mirage?
We’ve detailed Bibby’s historically unproductive postseason before, but he’s actually done a knock-up job thus far in this series.
He’s staying in front of Rose to the extent that any point guard can, and he’s successfully burrowed himself beneath the skin of the Bulls’ big men. And perhaps most important? He’s finally spacing the floor with 3-pointers.
Bibby is the starting pitcher who needs to throw six solid innings and then let his bullpen close out the game. If he can keep Rose from lighting it up from the opening tip and sprinkle some 3s in as well, he’s done his job.
If Bibby isn’t up to the task, then the Heat will likely call on Mario Chalmers, who redeemed himself in Game 3 after face-planting on the big stage in Game 2. Chalmers is a zero-sum player in the sense that he always seems to negate any recent progress, so it’s hard to imagine he continues his positive momentum. We’ve been burned before thinking that Chalmers has turned the corner, but the Heat will need his activity in Game 4.
It went under the radar, but the Heat employed a traditional point guard for all 48 minutes in Game 3 and it was certainly warranted. Can they continue to contain Rose and hit big shots?
Can the Heat win Game 4 from the stripe?
The Heat ranked second in the NBA during the regular season in free-throw rate (ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts). On several occasions during the dark days of winter, when the offense would grind to a halt, the Heat would eke out a win by bullying their way to the line.
That trend has continued in the postseason and the numbers are startling. In 11 of their 13 postseason games, the Heat have exceeded their opponent's free-throw rate -- usually by a substantial margin.
Against the Bulls, there will always be bodies around the ball in the half court. Clean shots are difficult to find -- but contact isn't.
Bosh was particularly crafty in Game 3, drawing fouls when pinned against the baseline by simply putting the ball on the floor.
Wade has been one of the league's premier crash test dummies of recent memory. He settled for a few too many midrange jumpers in the last meeting, but if the Heat can get him working off those curls again, he's destined to find his way to the line.
James needs no introduction to the charity stripe, where he's attempted 112 free throws since the opening tip of the first round. He's best right now serving as the Heat's de facto point guard, but that doesn't mean he can't find seams through which to burst to the hole and -- potentially -- the line.
Winning a series against a defensive outfit like Chicago was never going to be pretty. If the Heat can harness that ugliness to the tune of 25 or 30 free throws, they should be able to erase their inevitable deficit on the offensive glass -- because foul shots are potential second-chance points in their own right.
Will the Heat continue to cause Bulls misfires from point-blank range?
For the Bulls, the shot chart in Game 3 has to be a mixed blessing.
On one hand, they're unlikely to go 17-for-46 again from inside of 10 feet on Tuesday night. That number is every bit as improbable as some of the unconscious shooting displays we've seen across the league this postseason. Still, the Bulls have failed to connect at close range in two consecutive games against a Miami defense without a lot of conventional size.
The Heat hope to make the unsustainable sustainable for the third consecutive game as they tighten the vise against Derrick Rose and anyone else in a Bulls' uniform who dares to penetrate the lane. Miami doesn't devote the same amount of attention or defensive resources to the strong side of the floor, but their rotations to the point of attack have been brilliant.
Watch for the Bulls to adjust off the ball. Derrick Rose has a expansive offensive game and can potentially hurt the Heat off the ball by spotting up. Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer both excel as cutters who can sneak behind a defense. And where's that high-low game we saw Boozer and Noah initiate in Game 1, which now seems like eons ago?
Rose off the bounce will still be the Bulls' preferred mode of attack inside, but they'll have to diversify the offense to loosen up the middle, because Chicago's perimeter game won't save the day.