Friday, May 27, 2011

Live From the UC: Heat Close Out Bulls in Game 5

Last night, one-third of the JPO team, plus a non-JPOer who is well acquainted with all three bloggers, had the chance to attend Game 5 of the Bulls-Heat conference finals series live on West Madison St. at the United Center.

By now, all hoop fans know what happened: the Bulls were up by 10 points late in the game, but just as the Mavericks did to the Thunder, Miami used a furious offensive assault (including a rare 4-point play by Dwyane Wade), and firm defensive stands at the other end, to erase the gap, take the lead, and win the game by 3. Miami is now the Eastern Conference champion and will face Dallas next week as the NBA Finals begin.

The live crowd at the United Center was completely deflated by the end. Tom Thibodeau's squad had maintained a lead throughout the game. Expecting their Bulls to close out the win and go down to Miami for Game 6, the arena fans were caught off-guard when James and Wade began drilling shots, and utterly stunned when the final buzzer sounded and the ritual post-series handshakes began. However, this suggests the fallacy of casual observation in a basketball game. If a team builds an early ten-point lead and then maintains that lead for, say, 30 more minutes, it is not correct to think that the leading team "dominated" the game heretofore, as many commentators would say. Actually, in my imagined example, the leading team dominated an early stretch in building that margin, but the subsequent 30 minutes (most of the game) were played evenly, and the trailing team likely has the potential to pull off a quick ten-point run at any moment. This is roughly what happened in last night's game, as Chicago took a lead 9 minutes into the first quarter and did not relinquish that lead until 1 minute remained in the game.

In any case, I want to highlight through video (taken on my very non-professional camera) some key moments from this game.

On this play, Derrick Rose jumps upon Dwyane Wade's up-fake, and Wade draws two foul shots. Wade is not known as a great perimeter shooter; with more experience, Rose would have the patience to not "bite" on that fake.

On this play, the Heat catch both of Chicago's big men, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, out of position. With much empty space between himself and the rim, Chris Bosh capitalizes for an easy drive and lay-in.

Despite his lazy defense on that above play, I believe Boozer has been criticized too much during these playoffs. On this below play, watch as the Alaskan uses his wide body to set two sturdy screens. The first knocks Mike Bibby to the ground, and the second momentarily detours LeBron James, giving Luol Deng enough space to launch a good jumper, which he unfortunately missed.

Additionally, when Boozer gets the ball, the Heat certainly respect his offense in the painted area. On this play, watch Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (covering for Boozer’s assigned guarder, Joel Anthony, who got somewhat lost on the play when he shaded over to double-team Rose) converge on Boozer the moment the latter receives the ball at the free-throw line. Boozer correctly passes out of the double-team. Thanks to Mike Bibby’s completely forgetting about Derrick Rose, Rose is eventually able to swish an open three-pointer on this play.

In this fourth-quarter play, Luol Deng sneaks free after Dwyane Wade tires of trying to guard the much taller small forward. I include this one to illustrate that Miami’s swarming defensive philosophy often leads to wide-open looks. Deng is not even visible as the play starts, as he camps out in the lower right corner. Deng is easily able to shake loose of Wade’s sentry, and Wade then decides his service would be better rendered by banging in the post with Taj Gibson for a rebound. Deng is suddenly wide-open. LeBron James, ostensibly guarding Derrick Rose by this late moment in the game, does not bother to impede Deng as he streaks toward the hoop, receives a nice bounce pass from Kurt Thomas, and draws a foul.

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