Can the Chicago Bulls Really Pull the Shocking Upset of the Miami Heat?

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Can the Chicago Bulls Really Pull the Shocking Upset of the Miami Heat?

LeBron James picked up his 2012-13 NBA MVP award on Sunday, and by Monday all of the thrill had completely passed thanks to a 93-86 Game 1 loss to the upstart Chicago Bulls.

Is this for real?

As the presumed Eastern Conference champions, this was definitely a shock. What's uncertain is this question: was it a fluke, or just the beginning? In other words, how much was this result of deviation from the mean?

What do we know at this point? Definitely not enough to make any overarching conclusions, but we have plenty of evidence to answer some of the other questions after Game 1.

Miami has lost three games in their past 44, and two of those losses are to the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago, now winners of three games against the Heat this season, are just the third Eastern Conference team with a winning record against Miami this year. They join the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks (one of which will be Miami's next opponent if they escape the second round alive).

The Bulls defense-first, defense-second and defense-third philosophy makes them impossible to count out of any series, even if they are missing Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich at the onset.

Under the guidance of Tom Thibodeau, Chicago turns the court into a mud pit, which can turn at least a few games in the Bulls' favor no matter how dominant the opposition.

In four regular season games against the Heat, the Bulls held Miami to 94.3 PPG, compared to 102.9 vs. the rest of the league. Miami's 86 point total in Game 1 suggests the tempo favors the Bulls.

If the Bulls can keep Miami from scoring easy buckets in transition, that number figures to remain low, as would the Heat's chances of dominating this series. 

 

What Happened to Miami?

If you believe in the theory of rust, there's good reason to think this Heat loss was an anomaly.

Miami had an exceptionally bad first quarter and broke down at the end of the fourth quarter when "rusty" teams typically wear down. 

The Bulls held the Heat to just 15 points in the first quarter, and then outscored Miami 35-24 in the fourth. The middle two belonged to Miami, just not quite as much as the bookending quarters belonged to the Bulls.

When you split the game up, there's an interesting pattern that arises. First, let's take a look at Miami's offense during the first quarter.

What does common sense tell us to expect of a team that hasn't played a game in over a week? They're going to have some troubles—offensive, especially—in their first game back.

And now take a look at how they fared in the final three quarters.

Miami goes from a group struggling to get to—and finish at—the rim to their old selves fairly quickly. The game was theirs to win, and then...it wasn't, ending in a horrific final two-and-a-half minute stretch on a 10-0 Chicago run. 

OK, now take a look at Chicago's shot chart from the first three quarters.

Notice how green the floor turns when we look specifically at the fourth quarter.

The Bulls found themselves unable to attack consistently and efficiently, struggling to score at the rim for the first three periods. Suddenly, they get to the fourth quarter and make four of their six shots at the rim.

Chicago was considerably better in the final period compared to the first three, but much of it had to do with Ray Allen switching to guard Nate Robinson late in the game. At 37 years of age, Allen stands no chance checking Robinson, one of the quickest guards in the NBA.

If the Heat can't figure out a way to stop Robinson from getting to the bucket with ease, they'll be in for a long series. Look for Erik Spoelstra to adjust and force the ball out of Robinson's hands early in possessions in Game 2 and beyond. 

 

Should the Heat Really Blame the Layoff?

Until we get Game 2 under our belts, there's really no way to conclude with certainty. But all signs seem to point toward Miami's layoff being a huge factor in their Game 1 loss.

The Heat connected on just 29.2 percent of their three-point shot attempts in Game 1, a vexing number when you consider they hit on 39.6 percent during the regular season. Admittedly, they shot 32.2 percent against the Milwaukee Bucks, so their deep-ball struggles aren't exactly news.

What is? LeBron's inaccuracy.

The Chosen One hit on just 8-of-17 from the floor in Game 1. While a great night by Carmelo Anthony's standards, we've come to expect more from LeBron. Much more.

James' showing from the field doesn't even tell the whole story either. He was just 3-of-9 from the field through three quarters before exploding in the fourth.

James' shot chart through first three quarters of Game 1 (via NBA.com).

Credit Butler with playing James well, but after watching what he did in the final period, it was clear there was some layoff-induced rust to work through there.

Much of the same can be said of Wade, who hit on just 7-of-16 from the floor. He's battling a bum knee, but what's Chris Bosh's excuse (3-of-10)?

Miami as a team hit on just 39.7 percent of their field-goal attempts en route to showing how a usually unstoppable offense can all of a sudden turn ugly.

Again, homage must be paid to Chicago's defense and it's up to the Heat as to whether or not they want to blame their "layoff" for a Game 1 loss. After watching how they struggled to score (and even defend), though, it seems that there is such a thing as too much rest.

 

Is Nate Robinson Suddenly Superhuman?

No (although he was the basketball equivalent of Lex Luthor against Dwight Howard's Superman back in the 2009 Slam Dunk Contest).

Miami must realize that Robinson is the biggest threat from the perimeter as long as Deng remains sidelined. Just look at what he did to the Heat en route to his 27-point effort.

There should be no more leaving Ray Allen to cover Robinson. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers must be the guys to man Robinson at all times, and there might even be situations where they need to switch LeBron onto Robinson.

It sounds like a joke, but we've seen the little dude score 23 points in the fourth quarter once in these playoffs, and now we've seen him become the main offensive weapon in the Chicago's defeat of Miami Monday night.

Keeping him outside of the paint needs to be the primary focus for Miami. Robinson only got four attempts off at the rim, but he was sent to the free-throw line 10 times and dished out nine assists, many of which came once he got inside.

Nothing about what Robinson did to the Heat in Game 1 represents a groundbreaking discovery. We've always known that he could elude defenders, hit shots and even assume the role of a playmaker.

The Heat defended him like they didn't know any of this, at which point, referring to Robinson as "superhuman" is almost an insult. He recognized that Miami's defense was going to give him space, so he took advantage of it. And when they began to converge on him, he seized the opportunity to find the open man.

In other words, Nate Robinson played like Nate Robinson is capable of playing. So long as the Heat don't find a way to take the ball out of his hands (and shore up their defensive rotations), that's not going to change.

 

Can Miami Win in Chicago?

Chicago went into Miami and did their job. They've split the first two games (at the very least), and they'll be going back to the United Center with home-court advantage.

They hold court at home and the series is theirs. That means Miami is going to have to go into Chicago, face that incredibly hostile crowd, and pull off at least one win.

We've got to remember that the Bulls didn't set the city on fire when they were at home. A 24-17 home record is respectable, but not invulnerable.

Miami came into Chicago back in February and held the Bulls to just 67 points in the midst of their 27-game winning streak, and very nearly left with a win when they lost that 28th game.

The atmosphere is going to be incredibly hostile, but the Heat aren't typically phased by such matters. Miami had the NBA's best road record this season at 29-12.

Of course, the playoffs are a different animal, and the city of Chicago is not going to let the Heat leave unscathed. The Bulls play physical at home—arguably more physical then they do on the road—and if the refs remain accustomed to letting them play, they'll be a tough beat.

As difficult as it is to envision the Heat losing two games in a row as well, it has happened. Miami lost back-to-back games on three separate occasions during the regular season. While that may not seem like much, the Heat had just 16 losses for the entire year. That six of those losses came in back-to-back scenarios shows they're capable of being rattled.

That said, the Heat could go on to win this series in five games and nobody would be surprised. We would be shocked to see Miami lose each of the two or three games it plays in Chicago, though. 

South Beach's finest aren't infallible and they can be beaten, but the idea of them not being able to win in Chicago at least once borders on insane.

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