During the Big Three era, the Miami Heat have been in nine playoff series, winning eight of them. In only two of them – once against the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, and a second time facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA finals, they lost the opening game. What happened next? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh win four games in a row, advancing to the next one (or winning the NBA title) in a sweep.
So yes, it’s good the get excited about the Chicago Bulls defying the odds and everything logic says by beating the Heat in Miami in game 1. Just to take a little pinch at history: The Heat lost those games on the road. This one was at home, meaning they’ve already “lost” home court advantage. But history, very recent history, including against a similar, yet better, Chicago Bulls team, tells us that Miami don’t respond well to being beaten early in the series.
The Bulls were actually the favorites in 2011 after finishing with the best record in the NBA during the regular season. Derrick Rose looked like he deserved the MVP, and Chicago began the series with a 103-82 devestating win at home, which included this incredible dunk by Taj Gibson. Chris Bosh did score 30 points, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were limited to only 32 points while shooting 37.5% from the field combined. The rest of the Heat scored 20 points.
Then everything changed. Miami upped their defense, LeBron James started guarding Derrick Rose in the final minutes and it felt like he, and the rest of his team, was simply smothered into submission. Rose shot 7-23 in game 2, 8-19 in game 3, 8-27, including 1-9 from beyond the arc, in game 4 and 9-29 in game 5, while LeBron James took over the series and showed everyone who the real MVP was. Rose was limited to 32.6% from the field in the final four games. The Heat went on to lose in the NBA finals to Dallas despite holding a 1-0 and 2-1 lead.
A year later, and the Heat didn’t have to go through the Bulls. It wasn’t easy – they needed six games against the Pacers and seven against the Celtics, but it seemed their luck might run against Oklahoma City, losing 105-94 in game 1. LeBron James was the only one who really showed up, scoring 30 points, but Kevin Durant looked like the MVP with 36, helped by 27 from Westbrook.
Once again, doubting the Heat and Erik Speolstra’s ability to control his superstars and bring the right kind of defensive adjustments was a big mistake. The Heat’s ball movement improved, allowing a fourth offensive option, Shane Battier in game 2, to start hitting shots. Small Ball happened, and the Thunder didn’t react. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook happened to the Thunder, shooting 10-26 in game 2, 8-18 in game 3 and an embarrassing 4-20 in game 5. Kevin Durant withered away, scoring in nice numbers but never really looking like someone ready to give it his all when it mattered the most.
Are the Miami Heat in trouble? Yes, probably. The Chicago Bulls have a short squad, but they have the right kind of coaching, style and players to make life very difficult for the NBA champions. Still, don’t be surprised if this loss simply woke the Heat up from their complacency.