In Game 1, the short-handed Chicago Bulls shocked South Beach with a 93-86 victory despite playing without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. The top-seeded Miami Heat had lost just four times at home during the entire regular season, and they entered the series having won 41 of their last 43 games.
But the Bulls have their number. Tom Thibodeau's squad halted the Heat's 27-game winning streak and delivered their first loss of this postseason as well.
Miami figured to come out playing angry in Game 2, but not even the most ardent fan would have predicted the Heat would be up by 45 points with just over eight minutes left. Miami excelled in every facet of the game, resulting in a total annihilation of the Bulls.
The games could not have been more different, but the bottom line is that the Heat were supposed to be heading to Chicago up 2-0. Now they enter hostile territory needing to steal a road win to keep the series even.
Time: Friday, May 10, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
Series Record: Tied 1-1
Game 3 Key Storyline: Who Will Lose Their Cool First?
The biggest question mark looming over Game 3 is actually three questions. Will Deng play? Will Hinrich play? Will Derrick Rose play?
It's very difficult to speculate, but suffice it to say that Deng watched the first game of the series from a hospital bed, Hinrich's calf has hobbled him and Rose hasn't played a game all year.
As answers to those questions remain pending, the biggest storyline on Friday will be the ongoing MMA-esque soap opera that this bitter matchup has devolved into.
Following a gritty, physical battle in Game 1, the teams got downright nasty in Game 2. The referees may have been overly sensitive in calling some early technicals, but the blowout featured copious hard fouls, chippy plays and griping to officials.
The refs might need new whistles for the next game after they wore them out on Wednesday. When it was all over, 51 personal fouls, nine technicals and one flagrant had been called. Joakim Noah and LeBron James tussled in the first half, prompting double technicals; that was merely a prelude.
One sequence early in the fourth quarter got particularly ugly. With Miami leading by 35 points, Chris Andersen apparently goaltended a Marquis Teague shot, but no call was made on the play.
After Ray Allen converted a layup at the other end, Noah—who was sitting on the bench at the time—stepped on the court to argue the goaltending non-call, picking up his second tech and an ejection. Taj Gibson then picked up two lightning-quick technical fouls for shouting some NSFW words at the refs, and assistant coaches basically had to drag him into the locker room.
Through it all, Miami played a fine game and responded just as they needed to. The bitter aftertaste of its Game 2 shellacking will linger on Chicago's tongue, and the Bulls will do their best to rough up LeBron and Dwyane Wade with physical play and tough fouls.
If the Bulls can get Miami whining, that will help keep the Heat out of rhythm. They love to draw contact but hate getting roughed up.
But Chicago must maintain its cool after letting things get out of hand.
The next two games at the United Center figure to be a continuation of the slugfest, but the Heat won't find easy buckets like they did on Wednesday.
Series Star So Far: LeBron James
James almost wins this distinction by default, as the entire Bulls roster was heinously inconsistent from Game 1 to Game 2.
LeBron has been Miami's best player by far, although Ray Allen posted a stellar stat line in Game 2 (21 points, 5-of-7 from the field, 10-of-10 from the line) and Shane Battier finished with a plus-42 rating in 22 minutes.
But LeBron has led the way as usual, racking up 43 points (on 15-of-29 shooting), 16 assists, 13 rebounds and five steals in the two games. And the crazy thing is that James hasn't even played that well. He can facilitate or dominate, and the Bulls will have to pick their poison.
Projected Starting Lineups
Miami: Mario Chalmers, PG; Dwyane Wade, SG; LeBron James, SF; Udonis Haslem, PF; Chris Bosh, C
Chicago: Nate Robinson, PG; Marco Belinelli, SG; Jimmy Butler, SF; Carlos Boozer, PF; Joakim Noah, C
Heat Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Bulls Injury Report
Luol Deng (illness), day-to-day; Kirk Hinrich (calf), day-to-day; Derrick Rose (knee), out indefinitely
Heat Will Win If...
They play like they're supposed to play, especially on defense.
After shooting worse than 40 percent from the field and getting out-rebounded in Game 1, the Heat looked like they were playing against a CYO team in the second half on Wednesday.
Miami outscored Chicago in the paint 56-18 and bested it on the fast break 20-2. It shot 60 percent to just 35 percent for the Bulls and feasted on all the missed shots to control the glass.
This is the Heat team people expected to see in Game 1. While a healthy Luol Deng could be a game-changer, Miami is the much, much better team even with him on the court.
The Heat should get out-rebounded by the Bulls, but their paint scoring and free-throw shooting should easily make up for that.
The biggest key for Miami will be controlling pint-sized dynamo Nate Robinson and limiting opportunities close to the hoop for Noah and Carlos Boozer. It accomplished all that in Game 2, and there's no reason why it can't bring that defensive intensity to Illinois.
Bulls Will Win If...
They deliver a balanced and efficient scoring attack (we're looking at you, Carlos Boozer).
In their Game 1 win, the Bulls had five players in double digits and shot a respectable 44 percent. They also got to the foul line 29 times with their aggressive mentality on offense.
But even in that winning effort, Boozer couldn't get things going. After tallying just six points on 3-of-11 shooting and failing to attempt a single free throw, the much-maligned-until-this-season power forward managed eight points on 3-of-9 from the field in Game 2.
He's got a single offensive rebound in the two games, which is very bad news. Offensive boards lead to easy second-chance opportunities, and Boozer had averaged better than two per game this season and in these playoffs.
Nate Robinson has played incredible basketball for the past couple of weeks, but he cannot win the games by himself (even if he thinks that he can). Jimmy Butler, Noah and Boozer will have to rough up Miami down low to help open things up on the perimeter.
The Bulls (almost) always play tough defense, but their offense deserts them at times. They finished 29th in effective field-goal percentage during the regular season (via ESPN.com). They must feed off the home crowd, control the pace and score in the paint to regain their series advantage.
How will the series stand when it returns to Miami?
Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD reported Wednesday that "word out of Chicago is that Rose may suit up for Game 3." That does not mean Rose would actually play, and if he did it would likely be in a decoy role, but he might actually don a No. 1 jersey on the sideline for the first time this year.
That would provide a tremendous boost to the Bulls, but getting either Deng or Hinrich back would be even better. And despite all that, Chicago can beat Miami in Game 3 without them.
After suffering such an embarrassing defeat on national television, Thibodeau will hit the film room and have his charges fired up for revenge on Friday. Either Nate Robinson will make good on his 3-of-10 performance in Game 2, or his teammates need to get better looks off the attention Nate draws. And the Booze Cruise has to log more than nine points.
The United Center will be rocking, and Chicago will be playing angry after getting punked. Miami may have won Game 2 by a mile, but it still just counts as one win. And the Bulls will regain the upper hand in Game 3.
Prediction: Bulls 98, Heat 91