CHICAGO -- Wasn't Miami supposed to have a dominating 2-to-1 advantage in stars? The Bulls turned that weakness into an oppressive strength in their 103-82 win in Game 1 on Sunday. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James won't have any chance in this Eastern Conference final if they continue trying to go 2-on-5 against this stifling defense.
This was an embarrassing performance for a pair of stars who pride themselves on team play. The Heat's minus-5 assist-to-turnover difference (11 to 16) was written in fire-engine red ink. James and Wade shared equal blame in a combined eight turnovers, one fewer than Chicago as a team. The Bulls have now won all four games this season against Miami, and this was their most important and emphatic victory. It was a triumph of team play against two individuals.
"We took it on the chin in virtually all of the energy areas," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "Offensively we got away from things we normally do. ... You have to be able to execute details, setting guys up, screening, moving the ball. Because of losing a lot of those effort areas and the second-chance points, it really deflated us."
The Heat ran out to a 19-11 advantage, and they were even at 48-48 thanks to a 17-point, seven-rebound half by Chris Bosh (who would finish with 30 and nine overall). They were shooting 47.5 percent while anticipating second-half surges from James and Wade, who together were 7-of-19. Instead it was the quiet Derrick Rose who made the biggest difference at halftime, promising his teammates in the locker room that he would be more efficient after committing four turnovers. Over the second half the Bulls would surrender the ball one time via Carlos Boozer (14 points, nine rebounds), and even that was only after they had established and maintained a 14-point lead.
"We have to move on and learn from this," said Wade, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting. "We need to figure out a way to make sure we don't hold the ball. We need to move the ball and make them work."
One trend in particular will be difficult to change: The Bulls have outrebounded Miami in all four games this season, and on Sunday their advantage was 45-33 overall, and 19-6 on the offensive end. Joakim Noah's eight offensive boards were more than all the Heat put together.
"That's where this series is going to be won," Bosh said. "I think that there is the issue for us, and the key to the series for both teams."
After early difficulties getting to the basket, the Bulls worked up a nice rhythm of ball movement that provided Rose with his 28 points in a complementary role. It was stunning how easily he was able to score. He was siphoning his points from early offense and half-court ball movement, and by the time he went up for threes or drives or a simple couple of dribbles into a mid-range seam, the Heat defense was in no position to give him the extraordinary attention an MVP truly deserves. He wasn't dominating the ball and yet he was as devastating as ever.
"They weren't doubling him," said Luol Deng, who took as many shots (15) as James while outscoring him 21-15. "I think they were worried about our bigs."
It was as if the previous two rounds held no meaning. The Bulls, who had been relying too heavily on Rose to create scoring for himself, were now an egalitarian team of ball movement and transition scoring. The Heat, who had broken down the 76ers and Celtics as Wade and James developed an aggressive equilibrium, looked offensively as if they were learning to play together all over again.
After James converted a difficult turnaround jumper to give the Heat a 58-57 lead, Chicago began to steadily pull away -- out to 72-63 at the end of the third, then to 83-66 when C.J. Watson nailed a three-pointer midway through the fourth. Miami thought it had broken the code against the Tom Thibodeau-styled defense of the Celtics. But the Bulls have more energy and size than Boston -- and, for this night at least, than Miami.
"You play defense hard," James said, "and the shot goes up and they get an offensive rebound, and then they kick it out and get a three or a layup or a dunk. That is demoralizing for a defensive team. We have to find a way to clean that up."
The Heat spent the final minutes working blue-collar big man Udonis Haslem back into rhythm, and they're clearly going to need him. Only midway through the fourth did Miami show any interest in being physical, when Jamaal Magloire arrived late to stop a Rose drive cold in midair. But by then it was 88-72 after Rose stayed on his feet to make his free throws.
"We shot our own selves in the foot, we didn't move the ball like we usually do," Bosh said. "This is no different from any other loss that we've had. We took a beating tonight, and I think we'll get better. This has been a group all year that's responded well when we're down."
That was no clichéd statement. The biggest mistake anyone can make now is to make too much of this one game, given that Wade and James each has more deep playoff experience than any players in the Bulls' rotation. Miami has reached the third round entirely because it has learned to deal with a humbling night like this one. Who's to say that the two biggest stars won't channel this lesson into disciplined aggression Wednesday? Will the Bulls continue to convert 10-of-20 threes as they'd done before their regulars were removed in the 46th minute?
"We're not playing the matchup game," said Deng, even though he had won his against James. "We're just playing a great team game, great team defense, and just trying to win the game however we win it."
The most worrisome lesson for the Heat stars is that they're up against a team that is dedicated above all else to outworking them. The Bulls have the coaching, size, depth and leadership to see this through. What a terrific series this could become if Miami is equal to those challenges.