Chicago Draws First Blood
Deng Leads Way With 33 Points in Hard-Fought Opener
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.