The league’s MVP squares off against Miami’s three-headed beast for the chance to go to the NBA Finals.
1. Chicago Bulls vs. 2. Miami Heat
What the regular season taught us was that the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are very evenly matched. Their three meetings were decided by a combined total of eight points, all Bulls victories. That was the regular season, and that was before each of these teams slogged their way to within a series of the NBA Finals. Miami, despite having to go through the Boston Celtics, has seemingly had the easier road thus far. They were never in any real trouble against the Philadelphia 76ers and handled the Celtics better than most anyone could have imagined. They celebrated like East and West Germans did when the Berlin Wall fell after they beat the Celtics. All they needed was David Hasselhoff in a light-up jacket and their celebration would have been complete. Perhaps the celebration was a bit premature; Ganesa has not removed all of their obstacles. Miami is, after all, only half way to their goal and have to face the team with the best record in the league.
Chicago faced their largest test in the first round as the Indiana Pacers threw everything they had at the Bulls, exposing a multitude of weaknesses that had been overlooked by outside observers. The Pacers eventually succumbed to the Bulls’ rebounding might. Though the Atlanta Hawks won two games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they were their own Achilles heel falling back into predictable Isolation sets late in games which allowed Tom Thibodeau to keep his defensive unit on the floor stifling Atlanta’s best efforts to play one-on-one basketball.
Defense will dominate this series. It has been the hallmark of both of these clubs throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. This post season, Chicago has limited its opponents to the fewest points per possession while Miami ranks fourth. Defensive rebounding has a lot to do with limiting an opponent’s points and both teams are adept at cleaning the defensive glass. Where the Bulls do out-pace the Heat is in turnovers. Chicago creates more turnovers, and thereby more scoring opportunities, than the Heat. However, history would not appear to be on Chicago’s side despite the similarities of the two clubs. Six times in NBA history a team with the league MVP and no All Star teammates has faced a club with three or more All Stars in the playoffs. The team with more All Stars has won five of those meetings. The last time this happened was last season when the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated by the Celtics in the second round.
Derrick Rose vs. the Miami Heat
Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James have made it very clear that Miami will employ multiple defenders in their attempts to slow down the league’s MVP. Everyone from Mike Bibby, Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, and James will spend time guarding Rose. Bibby will start the game “guarding” Rose, Spoelstra has said, but Chalmers will be the one tasked with defending him for much of the game. “I think he’s one of the best in the NBA in getting in the paint. I have to do a good job of keeping him out,” Chalmers said and the numbers support his belief. Rose leads the playoffs in points inside of five feet with 106. When Rose gets into the paint he is shooting 45 percent, but when he gets within the restricted area his average climbs to 54 percent. In terms of shot distribution, 38.7 percent of Rose’s field goal attempts are taken at the rim. If the Heat does manage to limit Rose’s drives to the rim they still have not completely stopped him. He is shooting 46 percent on his midrange field goal attempts and most of these shots come as a result of the pick-and-roll. Rose leads the playoffs in scoring off the pick-and-roll with 118 points and runs 11.9 of them per game. To contain Rose’s scoring Miami must trap him along the perimeter and force him into a three-point shot. Beyond the arc, where Rose takes his second highest percentage of shots, he only shoots 27 percent.
Chicago’s defense vs. Miami’s offense
Slowing down the trio of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh (or Ghidorah as Hoopdata refers to them) is near to impossible. Even if one has a bad night or is swept into the emotion of a game, the other two will step up. What makes them especially potent is their ability to get to the free throw line. During the regular season, the Heat’s trio went to the charity stripe 36.3 percent of the time they attempted a field goal against the Bulls. As a team, Miami has the third highest offensive rating at 111.7 and that is despite playing a slow paced game. However, Chicago has the top rated defense in the league.
The Bulls have the pieces in place to pester Miami’s attack. Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer will be the primary defenders on Wade. Both are defensive minded two guards who can make Wade’s offense not flow as smoothly as it did against the Celtics. In the post, Joakim Noah will guard Chris Bosh. Noah has flustered each and every opponent that he has defended this post season and even had Josh McRoberts take a half-hearted punch at him that missed out of frustration. If Bosh let the ambiance of the TD Garden get to him, Noah will have him completely off kilter. As for James, his main defender will be Luol Deng. Size wise, Deng matches up well with James, however, in their regular season meetings James connected on 54.6 percent of his shots with Deng defending him.
Because Miami will not be able to keep Rose out of the paint all the time, Joel Anthony will be the team’s last line of defense. Luckily for the Heat, he is their best defender and a more than capable shot blocker, blocking 4.1 percent of the shots taken while he is on the court. In fact, he is much more than that. He is Miami’s version of what Kendrick Perkins was for the Celtics in previous seasons. Anthony’s efficiency rating during the playoffs is a +101. In another nod to how valuable he is to the team, Miami’s opponents shoot 50 percent while Anthony in on the bench. While he is on the floor their opponents shoot 39 percent.
What are we to make of Carlos Boozer? This has been his worst post season statistically. He has shown flashes of why the Bulls signed him last summer, but they have yet to be consistent. He must show up in this series. Miami will focus primarily on Rose which will create opportunities for Boozer and he must capitalize on them. Many of his scoring opportunities will come off missed shots and he needs to be in position to get the offensive rebound and the put-back. Activity on the offensive glass will help the Bulls limit Miami’s possessions and their transition offense. If Boozer continues to slump, Taj Gibson will be called upon. Gibson is far more active on the offensive glass than Boozer and has been more productive over all. His athleticism could be the key to creating more scoring opportunities for the Bulls, especially when bench players are in the game. Chicago’s bench out-classes Miami’s.
This will not be high scoring series, that much is certain. Both of these teams’ defenses are too good. Since these teams are evenly matched across the board, this series will not feature many, if any, blowouts. These games will be close. Can the Bulls find their offense when Rose is not creating off the dribble? They have yet to show that they can. What does Miami have left in its tank after their emotional series victory over the Celtics? Did they exhaust themselves? In terms of an overall team, Chicago has the advantage. Yet, when it comes to edge, Miami is the team that has it after defeating its archetype. The Heat defeats the Bulls 4-3.