There are quite a few heroes the Chicago Bulls can be proud of after shocking the NBA-viewing public and winning Game 1 against the Miami Heat – Joakim Noah by doing a little bit of everything, Nate Robinson for being once again huge in the fourth quarter despite the utter lack of faith in him from people outside the team. But it’s Jimmy Butler, for not getting a second of rest, and his incredible defense on LeBron James, that deserves more praise than anyone else.
For three consecutive games, Butler hasn’t rested for a second. This makes him the 4th player since the ABA/NBA merger to play in three consecutive playoff games without taking a seat, while becoming the first since Allen Iverson in 2005. No player has done it four consecutive times, but with the Bulls’ quilt being quite short, despite their very impressive 93-86 win, Butler might be forced to do it.
Butler had both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade under his wings during the game, as LeBron finished with 24 points and Wade with 14. Except for them, the Miami Heat didn’t show up, and the Heat have proven over the last three years that unless their Big Two come up with super games, like they did in the series against the Pacers a year ago, they need that third scoring option to help them out. Instead, all they got was 35.5% from the field and 48 points from the rest of the team.
The Bulls held Miami when the Heat are usually at their best – during the opening and finishing quarters. Miami scored only 15 points during the first quarter, with James having his worst first half of the season. While it’s impossible to keep him limited for an entire game, staying close to the rest of the Heat, who seemed a bit out of sync after more than a week of rest, was something the Bulls managed to do with a lot of heart and clever defensive movements, denying the Heat any kind of quick ball movement or chance to attack on the open court.
Beyond the defense and heroics of Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, there was what was easy to spot. Nate Robinson, small but unmistakable, and impossible to ignore. He finished with 27 points and 9 assists, driving past Mario Chalmers or anyone else that guarded him, as the Bulls kept looking for the switches that put him against much slower players, like Ray Allen as Robinson blew by for another huge layup in the fourth quarter.
He scored seven points during the Bulls’ dramatic 10-0 run in the final two minutes of the game, and is the only player in the last 15 seasons with at least 11 points and 6 assists in the 4th quarter of an NBA playoff game.
I’ve played on some tough teams. But this one, there’s something a little different, something special about this group.
The Heat? They’ll be talking about rust and missing out on opportunities in the clutch, like Dwyane Wade not connecting on a wide open three pointer that would have given the Heat the lead or LeBron James air-balling a shot while Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah blocked his view. But they should be talking about a defense that got tired in the end, and an offense that didn’t think the way it should have been for the entire game.