It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the Chicago Bulls stopped LeBron James; they just made life difficult for him and the rest of his teammates with their notoriously good team defense, some exceptional offense from Luol Deng to stop the Miami Heat and their almost NBA record breaking win streak at 27.
There aren’t that many theories on how to stop the Heat this season, especially during their almost two-month undefeated run. Going after LeBron James isn’t one of them. So the Bulls took a page out of what worked very well for the Indiana Pacers not too long ago, and let LeBron James feel mostly comfortable, finishing with 32 points and 11-17 from the field. Chris Bosh wasn’t too bad either, scoring 21, and neither was Dwyane Wade with 18.
But the issue was getting to the rest of the players, playing very aggressive defense on them. Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers tried a little bit too hard to get points going their way, and combined for 7-18 from the field. The Bulls kept it a half-court kind of game – The Heat drove to the basket 35 times when in half-court sets. They were 13-17 on drives to the basket, but were only 2-of-7 on passes off those drives. They couldn’t get into the paint, forced to test the Bulls’ big lineup and excellent perimeter defense, making only 25.6% of their shots from the outside, and were only 28% on catch-and-shoot plays, as the Bulls simply didn’t allow them to effectively do their drive-and-dish style.
For the Bulls, playing Nazr Mohammed and Jimmy Butler (17 points) might not get most of the spotlight at the end of game, but Butler was constantly the help guy on both ends of the floor, seemingly going unnoticed on offense and getting some sort of linebacker role on defense, which worked very well. Luol Deng is doing better and better offensively recently, leading the team with 28 points. He frustrated LeBron James enough to get a flagrant foul out of him, ramming his shoulder into Carlos Boozer on a screen. Boozer finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, as the absence of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah was never mentioned once.
The Heat simply missed NBA history, but it’s hard to say this is really changing anything – they’re still the favorites to win the NBA title, not to mention the East. The Bulls are still an ugly offensive team with a lot of heart, soul, defense and sometimes ingenuity. It’ll be surprising to see them make it further than the conference semifinal.