Chicago, IL (Sports Network) – Derrick Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng had 21 and the Chicago Bulls locked down on defense Sunday while pulling away for a 103-82 win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“We took it on the chin,” sighed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
He said it.
Miami had a one-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, but the Bulls ended the game on a 46-24 run, showing up as the better team on both sides of the court and firing the opening salvo in this anticipated series.
“We got a little bit of a cushion,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Then our defense picked up.”
Chris Bosh scored 30 to lead the second-seeded Heat, but top-seeded Chicago held Dwyane Wade to 18 points and LeBron James to just 15. Their 63 points were matched by Rose, Deng and Carlos Boozer, who scored 14 for the Bulls.
Game 2 is Wednesday in Chicago.
Although only three Bulls scored in double figures, they got help from all over.
Especially from Taj Gibson.
The reserve forward provided a spark at both ends, dunking on Wade in the first half and blocking James on a drive in the second. Though he scored just nine points, Gibson also provided the game with its signature moment.
Leaping for a rebound in front, his right arm stretched back 45 degrees, Gibson threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk for the last of Chicago’s 103 points.
“There’s wins and losses in the playoffs, and nothing else,” said Spoelstra, opening his post-game press conference with a comment probably meant to contradict the truth of what the game turned out to be.
It started on defense. The Bulls held Miami to just 13 field goals in the second half, and they did it cleanly. The Heat, with slashing scorers like Wade and James, didn’t even get to the foul line in the third quarter.
“We have to get better,” said Spoelstra, “and we’ll make those adjustments.”
While they took care of business on the defensive end, the Bulls used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to take control of a red-hot Miami team fresh off a five-game victory over battle-tested Boston in the semis.
Rose and Keith Bogans provided the spark with back-to-back three-pointers to make it 63-58. Rose scored five points during the burst, which gave the Bulls a 67-58 lead.
Gibson grabbed an offensive rebound and hit Deng with a pass at the top of the arc for a three-pointer that kept Chicago’s lead at nine points, 72-63, heading into the fourth.
The Bulls kept their foot on the pedal, only letting their lead dip into single digits briefly after James hit a three-pointer early in the quarter.
Later, Rose was fouled hard as he drove for a layup on the left side. He knocked down both free throws and later buried a long jumper after Miami had quickly cut the deficit from 17 to 12 with six minutes remaining.
The reigning MVP wasn’t done, either. After Kyle Korver hit a three-pointer, Rose pushed harder, driving for a one-handed bank shot on the right side that made it 97-80 with 4:12 remaining.
Armed with a 19-point lead, Thibodeau took his star guard out of the game with 2:14 left. After sweeping the Heat in a three-game series during the regular season, the Bulls pushed their advantage to 4-0.
“We just believe in each other,” said Deng. “I think that’s what’s making us a great team this year.”
The Heat led by as many as eight points in the first quarter — Bosh’s layup to make it 19-11 was the biggest lead in the half — and carried a 23-20 edge into the second.
Gibson threw down a two-handed dunk on Wade, rocking the rim despite getting hit in the face, and completed the three-point play to tie the game at 25-25 early in the second quarter.
Later, Deng halted a 7-0 Heat run with a three-pointer in the corner, and the game was tied 48-48 at halftime.
The Bulls were 10-for-21 on three-pointers, while Miami went 3-for-8…Chicago beat Indiana and Atlanta to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1998, when Michael Jordan won the last of his six NBA titles…The Bulls are 4-1 in playoff series against the Heat, including a win in the 1997 conference finals. Overall, Chicago is now 17-5 against the Heat in 22 postseason games.