The six-time champion Chicago Bulls, owners of the NBA’s #1 overall seed in these 2011 Playoffs, come to South Florida tonight to take on the Miami Heat, the East’s number two seed and the league’s most discussed, dissected and debated team this season, in the pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
After absorbing a 21-point trouncing at the hands of MVP PG Derrick Rose and teammates in Game 1, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and fellow ‘Heatles’ bounced back in Game 2 on Wednesday night at The United Center and evened the ECF at a game apiece. Now the simultaneously adored and vilified Miami squad has home court advantage in the series. With Games 3 and 4 in Miami, Coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley both must feel good the position their team is in given that the Heat were 30-11 at the American Airlines Arena in the regular season and are undefeated on Biscayne Boulevard so far this postseason.
This series has been a physical, bloody (literally) and aggressive battle thus far, with team rebounding playing a monstrous factor. Of the 30 teams in the world’s best basketball league, the Bulls ranked first in defensive field goal percentage at .430, and the Heat were second at .434. Interestingly, Miami shot exactly 32 for 68 from the
field in both Games 1 and 2, a 47.1% clip. The key difference for the Heat was that in their Game 2 road-victory they outrebounded Chicago 45-41 and upped their defensive rotations and intensity. In the opening game they got destroyed on the backboards, 45-33, allowing the Bulls to grab 19 offensive boards. Also, in Game 2 Chicago made only three 3-pointers compared to the ten they connected on from 23’ 9” in the first game.
The Bulls have the deeper more impactful bench, while the Heat have the best 1-2-3 punch in the league with their summer 2010-formed Sunshine State Big 3 of All-NBA First Teamer King James, All-NBA Second Teamer Wade and 6X All-Star PF Chris Bosh. In the opening two Illinois-based contests, 2011 Coach of The Year Tom Thibodeau counted on his non-starters for an average of 79 minutes per game as a group. In comparison Miami, with so much skill and firepower in their first five, only averaged 61.5 bench minutes per game, with Coach Spoelstra leaning especially heavily on his stars in Game 2, playing his 6 through 11 only a combined 55 minutes.
Both sides can be optimistic about their chances in tonight’s third 94-foot, 48-minute rumble. The Heat are fantastic at home and have had almost four full days to rest their minute-weary stars. But the Red & Black have proven to be remarkably resilient after a loss. The bounce-back Bulls haven’t suffered consecutive defeats since the first week of February. Tune in to find out which title contender will take control of this series when the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat meet for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.