The Chicago Bulls pulled off a stunner on Monday night, defeating the Miami Heat, 93-86, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson were positively huge for the Bulls, as Tom Thibodeau's bunch proved that the Heat won't simply be able to coast into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite LeBron James scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Heat were not able to come up with clutch stops or buckets, and the Bulls took advantage.
Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points on 50-percent shooting (3-of-8 from three), while Noah and Butler combined to score 34 points and pull down 25 rebounds.
In the end, the Heat did not waltz to a series-opening victory the way many supposed they would, as Game 1 turned into an ugly and physical affair.
An uncharacteristically sloppy first half saw Miami shoot 33.3 percent from the field (including just 40 percent from the restricted area).
The Bulls flashed their trademark grittiness throughout and refused to die, as their collection of role players pushed the Heat to the limit.
James received his fourth-career MVP award prior to the game, but was not in peak form in the series opener. He didn't record his first bucket until the five-minute mark in the first quarter and shot 47 percent from the field on the night.
In total, James finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 44 minutes.
Dwyane Wade, who sat out Game 4 last series against the Milwaukee Bucks to rest his sore knee, appeared fresh Monday night, but made some questionable decisions in crunch time.
Combined, Wade and Chris Bosh scored 23 points on a weak 10-of-26 shooting.
The Heat were forced to play at Chicago's pace and were limited in transition by the stingy Bulls defense, scoring just nine points on the fast break.
Another positive sign for the Bulls is that they were effectively able to use the size of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson to their advantage, outscoring the undersized Heat, 40-32, in the paint.
The Bulls also out-rebounded the Heat, 46-32, hammering the frontcourt of Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Bosh on the glass.
Game 2 will tip off on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in Miami.
Here's James receiving his fourth MVP trophy. There will almost certainly be more to come.
LeBron James holds up his MVP trophy before Game 1 twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 6, 2013
Robinson, whom the Bulls will continue to rely on to shoulder a sizable chunk of the offensive burden, opened the game 0-of-4 from the field.
Tom Thibodeau is going to yell "WE DONT WANT THOSE!!" in Nate Robinson's direction plenty of times this series. #HEATvBULLS— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) May 6, 2013
James, Wade and Bosh were not active offensively in the early going.
RUST ALERT: First time since the Big Three joined up that the Heat went the first 5 minutes of a game without a bucket.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 6, 2013
If you enjoy defense, the first quarter of Game 1 was for you.
The Bulls and Heat are a combined 8-for-29 from the field, and 0-for-9 from 3-point range.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 6, 2013
Despite having an eight-day layoff, the Heat looked rather lethargic.
Heat doing a lot more standing around on offense than normal. They're usually much snappier with the ball/player movement.— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) May 6, 2013
The Heat applied defensive pressure in the second quarter, forcing the Bulls into a number of turnovers.
Bulls offense is starting to look like the LSU offense against Alabama.— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) May 6, 2013
In case you hadn't noticed, the Bulls have perfected the art of mucking up a game.
The Bulls ability to make the game ugly is a thing of beauty.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 7, 2013
Entering the fourth quarter, James had scored just nine points. Talk about a statistical anomaly. Credit Butler with some spectacular defense, too.
Only 2nd time this season LeBron didn't score double-digits entering the fourth quarter. Last time? Heat won by 7 vs. MEM on March 1.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 7, 2013
Butler played all 48 minutes in Game 1, just as he did in Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Even Luol Deng thinks Jimmy Butler is playing a lot of minutes.— K.C Johnson (@KCJHoop) May 7, 2013