Chicago Draws First Blood

Deng Leads Way With 33 Points in Hard-Fought Opener

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Morning On The Air - By Michael Wilbon

Bulls 96, Heat 91

CHICAGO, April 21 — A se­ries that started with plenty of edge fig­ured to be­come down­right con­tentious af­ter the Chicago Bulls took Game 1 from the de­fend­ing NBA cham­pion Mi­ami Heat at the United Cen­ter.

The Bulls won, 96-91, on Satur­day de­spite al­low­ing Shaquille O’Neal to score 17 points in the first half on a variety of dunks and layups, de­spite get­ting one bas­ket each from starters Kirk Hin­rich and P.J. Brown, and de­spite blow­ing all but one point of a 13-point lead late in the fourth quar­ter.

The Bulls needed an of­fen­sive re­bound from Ben Wal­lace and two free throws each from Ben Gor­don and An­dres No­cioni to close out the first game of what could be a long se­ries, with an­i­mosi­ties re­newed from a quar­rel­some six-game se­ries be­tween th­ese two last year.

Mi­ami will, no doubt, stew be­tween now and Tues­day’s Game 2 over O’Neal foul­ing out with three min­utes to play. O’Neal made 8 of 10 shots in the first half, but only 1 of 4 for just two points in the sec­ond half, and he played only 27 min­utes be­cause of foul trou­ble. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 21 points but was lim­ited to 33 min­utes, also be­cause of foul trou­ble.

“My in­ten­tion was to come out and be my­self, un­til [ref­eree] Ed­die Rush de­railed me,” O’Neal said af­ter the game.

Even so, Mi­ami got enough help from An­toine Walker, Ja­son Wil­liams and James Posey to get within one pos­ses­sion of tak­ing the lead in the fi­nal minute of the game. But the Bulls, who have squan­dered leads in plenty of games this sea­son and nearly wilted once again, did just enough to win.

“Ev­ery game is go­ing to be tough like this,” Chicago’s Luol Deng said af­ter scor­ing 33 points and grab­bing eight re­bounds. “They’re the cham­pi­ons and we know they’re not go­ing down easy.”

Mi­ami be­gan Game 1 al­ready an­noyed at com­ments from Hin­rich in par­tic­u­lar that sug­gested the Bulls were just fine with this matchup af­ter Chicago blew a chance to fin­ish higher in the East­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings and avoid Mi­ami, per­haps al­to­gether, in the play­offs. O’Neal and Alonzo Mourn­ing said Hin­rich should be care­ful of what he asks for. And O’Neal said Bulls-Heat isn’t a ri­valry un­til the Bulls take a step for­ward to make it one.

The Bulls did that, at least for one game, by be­ing quicker to the ball and spots on the floor, which got O’Neal and Wade in foul trou­ble, just as they were in the six- game se­ries against Chicago last year. Deng lit up Wade, hit­ting 14 of 22 shots. Wal­lace, whom the Bulls signed as a free agent for just this kind of con­fronta­tion, grabbed 14 re­bounds. And Ben Gor­don, in ad­di­tion to 24 points, slid past Mi­ami’s slower perime­ter de­fend­ers to record 11 as­sists.

As im­pres­sive as O’Neal was in catch­ing and scor­ing quickly, the Bulls, who have no low-post of­fen­sive threat to speak of, nev­er­the­less outscored Mi­ami in the paint 36-32. And they blew past Mi­ami fre­quently enough to outscore the Heat 25-4 on fast-break chances. Surely, Chicago’s 46-33 edge in re­bound­ing will catch Coach Pat Ri­ley’s at­ten­tion on the two full days Mi­ami has be­tween now and Game 2.

The Bulls will cer­tainly have to fig­ure out how to play bet­ter down the stretch and how to get Hin­rich back in form. Af­ter talk­ing about want­ing to play Mi­ami, Hin­rich was a no-show Satur­day. He missed 6 of 7 shots, had four turnovers to only three as­sists, and half as many tech­ni­cal fouls (one) as points (two). Hin­rich picked up three silly fouls in the first half and a fourth one minute into the third quar­ter.

His non­per­for­mance would have re­sulted in de­feat for Chicago had Coach Scott Sk­iles not been able to get a great de­but play­off per­for­mance from rookie Thabo Se­folosha, who scored nine points, grabbed four re­bounds and com­pletely shut down Wade for a stretch in the sec­ond quar­ter, then again in the third.

The two full days off will al­low older, slower Mi­ami to per­haps find its legs and no doubt counter strate­gies. And it might also al­low bub­bling emo­tions to at least be re­duced to a sim­mer be­fore th­ese two teams re­sume what prom­ises to be an en­ter­tain­ing and tense first-round se­ries.


The Bulls’ Luol Deng drives past James Posey. “They’re the cham­pi­ons and we know they’re not go­ing down easy,” Deng said of Mi­ami.

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