The Chicago Bulls have put together two of the more improbable wins in recent postseason memory. After besting the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 at Barclays Center, the Bulls went down to South Beach and stole Game 1 from the Miami Heat.
To make those road victories even more impressive, Chicago did it without the services of Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. But beating the Nets and Heat are two very different animals.
Brooklyn played inconsistently all year, while Miami has been a well-oiled machine. After getting smacked in the mouth in Game 1, the Heat will be eager to come roaring back and swamp the short-handed Bulls.
Time: Wednesday, May 8, 7 p.m. ET
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Series Record: 1-0 Bulls
Game 2 Key Storyline: Who Are You, and What Have You Done with the Heat?
Shane Battier and Ray Allen shot 4-of-14 from the field as the Heat trudged to a shooting percentage of 39.7. As a team, Miami missed eight of its 25 free throws after shooting 75.4 percent from the charity stripe during the season.
Chicago won the fourth quarter 35-24 behind a barrage of Nate Robinson free throws, and that decided the game. Marco Belinelli joined Nate to spur Chicago on a 10-0 run to close the fourth, which will likely be on loop in Erik Spoelstra's film room.
Miami had won 41 of its previous 43 games and had lost only four games at home during the entire regular season. Two of those home losses came at the hands of the New York Knicks, and one was against Chicago. The Bulls also halted the Heat's 27-game winning streak on March 27.
The Bulls match up well with Miami because they play stout defense and rebound well. With Nate Robinson playing at an elite level and piling up the points late in games, Chicago looks like a very dangerous opponent despite its injury woes.
But if the Heat could just play to their capability, they would handily beat the Bulls.
Series Star So Far: Jimmy Butler
I know, I know, many of you are presently shouting about how incredible Nate Robinson has been lately, but a different player starred in Game 1.
Filling in for the hospitalized Luol Deng, Jimmy Buckets piled up 21 points, 14 boards, three assists and a block. That's as many rebounds as LeBron James and Chris Bosh grabbed between them.
The second-year player also got to the foul line 10 times, and to top off Butler's impressive stats, he logged all 48 minutes in the win.
Projected Starting Lineups
Chicago: Nate Robinson, PG; Marco Belinelli, SG; Jimmy Butler, SF; Carlos Boozer, PF; Joakim Noah, C
Miami: Mario Chalmers, PG; Dwyane Wade, SG; LeBron James, SF; Udonis Haslem, PF; Chris Bosh, C
Bulls Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Luol Deng (illness), questionable; Kirk Hinrich (calf), questionable; Derrick Rose (knee), out
Heat Injury Report
Bulls Will Win If...
They control the glass and limit their turnovers.
Chicago dominated Miami on the boards in Game 1, 46 to 32. The Bulls did so many things well: denying entry to the painted area, limiting second-chance opportunities and forcing the Heat to rely on jump shots.
But the Bulls almost frittered it away by committing 16 turnovers. Daequan Cook committed two turnovers and played just two minutes! Miami protected the ball much better, coughing up only nine turnovers of its own.
Despite getting killed on the glass, the Heat attempted seven more field goals and outscored Chicago 22-10 in points off turnovers.
Controlling the glass won't be a challenge, as that is central to the Bulls' identity. During the season, Chicago ranked eighth in rebounds per game while Miami finished dead last. But if the Bulls want to hang with the Heat for a whole seven-game series, they must take better care of the ball.
Heat Will Win If...
They improve in transition and stop settling for jump shots.
LeBron James had just two points in the first half of Game 1. Two points!
The Bulls did an admirable job of keeping LeBron and D-Wade from knifing through the paint, though they still racked up 38 points in the end.
The Heat managed only nine fast-break points in Game 1, which is slightly incredible since the Bulls played with a short bench; only six Chicago players saw double-digit minutes to nine for the Heat.
Miami needs to get out and run past Chicago. The Heat should increase the tempo and look to catch the Bulls in transition before they set up their D.
Though they play very disciplined defense, the Bulls are likely to be without Deng and Hinrich again in Game 2. Add to that Noah's balky foot, and Miami's roster of athletes should blow past Chicago.
Chicago accomplished a mammoth task by beating the Heat at home in Game 1, but you'd be insane to count Miami out just yet.
They also trailed these very same Chicago Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and then romped to victory in four straight games. A little adversity clearly doesn't faze them.
The Heat never lost consecutive games at home all season, and they won't be starting now. They'll even the series by cleaning up their errors from Game 1 and finding new ways to get to the hoop.
But they should be worried about heading back to Chicago, because the return of Hinrich and Deng seems to be just around the corner.
Prediction: Heat 96, Bulls 89