Sunday, May 22, 2011

ECF Series Update: Where to from here?

So we're through two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the emotions have been pretty roller coaster for both sides. The Bulls dominated Game 1, which had Heat fans depressed and Bulls fans elated. The entire media apparatus jumped off the Heat bandwagon even as it was going down the highway at 70mph. It was truly a spectacle to behold. That reality was short lived, however, as Bulls nation came crashing down as the Heat won Game 2 and stole home court away. As if Game 1 never happened, the next morning everyone was back on the Heat bandwagon and all was right in my world. I was so distraught after Game 1 I left my house at 11pm and went and ran to vent my frustrations. After Game 2, however, I felt like this guy...

I felt like this guy! (And sadly I currently do, I don't want to talk about it)

Such is the world of sports, one minute you're elated and have everything figured out and the next you're tearing up and torturing your body to forget the pain of losing (Apparently, even Heat fans are soft).


There's not a lot to say about Game 1. The Bulls played virtually a perfect game. The defense was suffocating. Their OReb% was 41%. They shot 45% (9-20) from 16-23ft. And they shot 48% (10-21) from 3. The only shining light for the Heat in that game was it was very unlikely the Bulls could duplicate a performance like that. I'm not 100% positive about this next statistic, but someone from ESPN said that the Bulls shot 35% on first chance shots. I believe it. The Heat played fantastic defense for 20 seconds, then couldn't grab the rebound. The Bulls then were able to kick out for long 2s and 3s with no Heat player around. Of the Four Factors, the Heat and Bulls had virtually the same effective FG% and FT rate, but were demolished in offensive rebounding rate (41.3-18.8%) and turnover rate (11.8-18.8%). That's a recipe for disaster. As such, the Bulls were able to put up 87 shots to the Heat's 68, and take 5 more FTs. It's amazing the Bulls didn't win by more than 21.

Game 2 started out the same way as Game 1 (I almost turned the game off out of frustration). The Bulls had 7 ORebs in the first 6 minutes of the game. Luckily their offense was so terrible I'm not sure they could have hit water if they fell out of a boat. Fortunately for my health and well-being, the Heat held the Bulls to 10 Orebs the final 42 minutes, and pulled out a victory on the backs of a suffocating defense, a resurgent Udonis Haslem, and another masterful 4th quarter by LeBron James. The Bulls were still had a 33% Oreb%, which is right at their season average against the Heat. The big difference was the Heat were able to get on the offensive boards themselves with the help of Haslem and LeBron. Having a 29% offensive rebounding rate helped negate one of the Bulls' biggest advantages, and in my opinion was the biggest reason for the win on Wednesday night (Okay probably second biggest behind the Bulls shotting 34% from the field and 15% from 3).

Derrick Rose had a pretty Rosian (TM - John Eric Turner - all rights reserved) night in Game 2 with 21 points 8 assists and 6 rebounds on 7-23 shooting. Afterwards, Rose (which the media eventually parroted) said that he missed a lot of shots he normally makes, but is this true? I say, "No!" Rose is at his best when he's near the rim. Over the season he shot 60% at the rim on 6 attempts. He shot close to that in Game 2 going 2-4. The real reason for Rose's poor night was his midrange game and his 3 point shooting. On the season from 3-9Ft rose shoots 40% on 2 attempts. So he's not very good from this distance, and doesn't take those shots very often. On Wednesday he was 0-7. Okay so he's unlikely to go 0-7 in the future, but what this shows is that the Heat did a great job of keeping Rose away from the rim and forcing him into shots that he normally doesn't take. So I have to disagree you, Derrick. I don't think you were missing shots you normally make. The shots you normally make you weren't allowed to take.

Erik Spoelstra has won the coaching match up so far, not because he's been much better than Thibs, but because his team took home court away from the Bulls. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. Still I'm not sure how much credit Spoelstra really deserves for this. Sure he made some good defensive adjustments against the Bulls and his rotations for the most part have been solid, but he completely lucked into Haslem and for that I'm docking him points. I've been saying for quite some time now. If Haslem's going to play you need to play him every game regardless of how he's playing even if only for a few minutes because you never know when "it" will happen. "It" is when the switch goes off inside a player and they suddenly remember how to play basketball again. When they're mind and body catches up to the speed of the game. And when they aren't thinking about what they're supposed to be doing, they're just doing it. Well in Game 2, "it" happened for Udonis. The frustrating part is Spoelstra wasn't going to play him. He didn't play him in Game 1, mistake. And the only reason he saw time in Game 2 was because Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire picked up 2 fouls early in the game and Spoelstra didn't want James to pick up a second foul by playing PF. So in went Haslem, and the rest as they say is history. Both coaches have been less than impressive through two games with their stubbornness getting the best of both of them.

We talked about in the preview whether the Bulls would play PnR or Isolation. The answer: much more isolation. In the first two games the Bulls ran 15% of their plays in isolation and only 17% PnR. This was much lower than their playoff numbers (which going into the series was around 9% iso and 27% PnR. This should work out in Chicago's favor because Rose going isolation against Bibby is advantage Rose for all eternity, but it's not. The Bulls are only scoring .81ppp on isolations (.89ppp for Rose in these situatiosn) v .94 on pnr opportunities (1.05ppp for Rose in these situations). Now, why? My guess, and it's just that a guess, is because Rose is settling for jumpers more than he's taking Bibby to the rim. Conversely, it's possible that  Rose is being met by 3 more Heat defenders just before he gets to the rim (adding to that 0-7 from 3-9ft). Either way isolations have not been as fruitful for the Bulls as one would have thought going into the series. (Side note, the Heat have been terrible in Isolation so far this series with .56ppp. Terrible. LeBron is .67ppp and Wade is .50ppp. Even more shocking is that Bibby, Miller, and Anthony are all 0.0ppp in isolation situations. Okay that probably wasn't so shocking. As such, every time the Heat run isolation I lose a day of my lifespan. In addition for the Bulls, Deng is scoring .33ppp in isolation, he should probably stop that.)

What to look for the rest of the series

Udonis Haslem make a gigantic splash in a game many doubted he would even play (I'm sure you can add Erik Spoelstra to that list). Haslem's effect didn't show up in the +/- of the game, but it was there for all to see. When he entered the game half way through the third, the Heat immediately went on a 10-0 run. He had 9 points in the final 6 minutes of the 3rd including 2 monstrous dunks. It was wonderful to see, especially from a player who had only played 7 minutes in the last 6 months. The Heat need Haslem to be effective off the bench in Games 3 and 4. I think he'll live up to the hype in Game 3 with 4 days of rest and that Miami crowd feeding him adrenaline, but in Game 4 I'm not sure if he'll have it. He's definitely going to test his fitness level and the health of his foot in a game with only one day off.

Can the Heat either prevent the Bulls from getting offensive rebounds (a gambler's bet if there ever was one) or at least get their own offensive rebounds to negate the advantage? It's pretty obvious after the first two games that the Bulls are going to live and die on the glass. Their offense is terrible and the Heat's defense can strangle you. So the Bulls need to maximize their shot opportunities to get shots. For the Heat this means playing Haslem and Mike Miller as much as their bodies can handle. For the Bulls this means Boozer needs to be just good enough on offense to stay on the court so he can push people in the back (I mean get rebounds). I think the Bulls will be back to winning the rebounding battle in Games 3 and 4, but the Heat will stay just competitive enough to pull the games out.

Will the role players for either team show up on the offensive end? Kyle Korver, James Jones and Mike Bibby are all missing in action. I'm surprised that Korver struggled in Chicago, and I don't see his fate changing in front of a hostile Miami crowd (There's a reason the Heat are undefeated at home in the playoffs). I'd love to say that Bibby's shot will suddenly reappear, but his shooting 22% or so from 3 this playoffs. It's terrible. I'd rather Mike Miller shoot at this point, and that's saying something. Luckily Bibby has been playing pretty good defense this series, including a block on Luol Deng on a fast break in Game 2 (Seriously, how did the apocalypse not occur yesterday???). James Jones is the one player I think could break out and hit some shots, but I don't see him getting many minutes as long as Mikey Miller keeps rebounding. Still even 1 or 2 makes could be huge in the defensive struggles that are likely to define this series. This series will likely continue to be a battle of Rose v James/Wade... Advantage Miami..

Bosh had a huge game in Game 1, but was quiet on offense in Game 2. Look for the Heat to get him back involved in Game 3 and 4 with a bunch of PnRs. He's scoring 1.5ppp in those sets with most of them being wide open dunks. I'm not sure why they abandoned that for Game 2, but they did. It ended up working out for them as they won the game, but James and Wade aren't going to score 25+ on 50% shooting every night in this series. And taking as much pressure off them as possible is important. If the Heat and James don't get Bosh the ball in those PnR situations, I might fly to Miami and punch Erik Spoelstra in the throat.


The first two games were exciting and boring all at the same time. I fully expect that to continue, but I'm not sure Bulls fans are going to be happy with the outcomes of the next two games. The Heat need to win both at home otherwise they risk needing to win a Game 7 in Chicago. The Bulls need to win a game or face the task of climbing Mount McKinley to win this series (climbing Mount McKinley might be easier). I think both games will be close, but the Heat will pull away in the 4th as is their M.O. in these playoffs. This is all speculation of course. I'm not a psychic. With the game later tonight, however, I do feel like this kid awaiting the goodies that will come in the near future...

No comments:

Post a Comment