It’s been well established that for LeBron James and the Miami Heat to succeed in the playoffs and win NBA titles (which they’ve already done once), they won’t be able to turn away from winning by scoring in the paint. Dwyane Wade only started helping in the fourth quarter, but it was enough to put a lid on the Eastern conference semifinals series, closing it out in five games, as the big three advance to their third conference finals in three years.
The Heat began the game on a 22-4 run, but somehow fell down to a double digit deficit against the never quitting, suddenly shot-hitting Chicago Bulls. But putting a starting and finishing squeeze was enough, winning the fourth quarter 25-14 en route to a 94-91 win and a 4-1 ending to the series, making it the third time in four years that LeBron James, with the Heat or with the Cavs, has knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs.
The Heat didn’t need to drive into the paint during the early moments of game 5. Udonis Haslem was impossible to stop early on, as their defense and ball movement seemed to be just as good if not better than in game 3. James didn’t need to play too aggressively, as the Heat hit their first 7 field goal attempts, while Chicago needed a few shouts from Tom Thibodeau and Nate Robinson to start playing.
But in the middle of the first quarter, that mojo ended. The Bulls started hitting shots: Robinson, Butler, Boozer and later on Rip Hamilton. The Heat stopped thinking on offense, as both James and Wade starting pulling up for shots instead of working a little bit harder for their baskets, while Ray Allen and Shane Battier kept abusing the rim by missing three pointer, one after another, finishing the game on a combined 3-11.
But the second half, led by James, Wade and the ever improving Norris Cole, was about pushing into the paint. James wouldn’t let Jimmy Butler or anyone else guarding him stop him from reaching the paint, were he either kicked the ball out to open shooters and slowly created the space needed for more players, or simply finished himself, usually getting to the line, hitting 12 of 15 shots.
James drove to the basket 15 times during the second half compared to only four in the first. The Heat scored 15 points off of James’ penetrations and 24 in total during the second half, compared to only 5 off James and a total of 9 during the first half. Battier and Allen started hitting open shots as Carlos Boozer made mistake after mistake on defense, while the Bulls’ defense overreacted and couldn’t decide on whether to help on James or keeping an eye on the outside.
Dwyane Wade had his knee re-taped before the third quarter, and looked like a different player on the fourth. He finished the game with 18 points, including 3-for-3 with three rebounds in the final quarter. It’s scary to think how much the Heat are considered better than everybody else, with Wade being so far off 100%. For now, it’s about feeling happy for coming out of this series with only one loss and a minimal bruising against a very rough Bulls team. Fixing their consistency on offense and problems with keeping teams off the offensive glass can wait one more day.