Frustrated by a rough start, Derrick Rose stood up at halftime and apologized to his teammates. As makeups go, they’ll take it.
Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng contained LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls struck first in the Eastern Conference finals, pulling away to beat the Miami Heat 103-82 in Game 1 on Sunday night.
The Bulls are off to a good start after sweeping the Heat during the regular season. They went on a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter, then pulled away in the fourth.
As the final minutes ticked away, fans chanted ”Over-rated!” and ”Beat the Heat!”
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago, and they’d be just fine with another performance like this.
Rose settled down after committing three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all.
As for his apology?
”It was on me,” Rose said. ”Careless turnovers. You can’t do that against this team. When they get into the open court, they’re too dangerous. … I’m the point guard. I’ve got to do way better.”
He did just that after the early hiccup, particularly in the second half and hit some big shots down the stretch. Even so, this was no solo act.
Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals, seven rebounds and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
”Definitely to guard a guy like that the whole defense has to stay focused,” Deng said. ”There were times we switched and times we forced him into the double. Our bigs were great at forcing him into the front.”
Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joakim Noah had 14 rebounds and the Bulls pounded the Heat on the glass, 45-33, grabbing 19 on the offensive end while outscoring them 31-8 on second-chance points.
”You play defense. You play defense hard and the shot goes up and they get an offensive rebound, kick it out for a three or get a layup or a dunk,” James said. ”Those are demoralizing for a defensive team. We’ve got to figure out a way to clean that up.”
Chris Bosh led Miami with 30 points and nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade scored 18 points, but the Heat simply were overmatched down the stretch.
”Dwyane and LeBron are going to create a lot of attention,” Bosh said. ”This is a good defensive team. … They’re going to make them distributors. We have to look at where we fell short as a team for Game 1 and come back with a better approach.”
The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third when the Bulls made their move, reeling off 10 straight and seizing the momentum.
Rose and Bogans started it by nailing 3-pointers. A steal by Bogans against Wade led to two free throws by Rose after he got knocked to the floor going for a fast-break layup.
Then, after a timeout, Noah blocked a layup by Wade and scored seconds later on a layup off an inbounds along the Bulls’ baseline, making it 67-58.
The Heat’s James Jones ended the run with a 3, but the Bulls simply weren’t about to be stopped.
When Deng hit a 3 with 1:15 left to make it 72-63 with 1:15 remaining, the crowd jumped to its feet and let out a roar. More important, that started a 14-3 run that stretched into the fourth and put this one away.
Whether it was Boozer feeding Omer Asik for a dunk early in the fourth or Deng racing in to put back his own missed jumper after a 3 by James, there was plenty for the Chicago fans to cheer during that stretch. They were loving it when Ronnie Brewer stole a pass from Mario Chalmers and hit two free throws, then dunked to make it 80-66. And when C.J. Watson buried a 3 to put the lead at 17, they just about came unglued.
For at least some Chicago fans, beating Miami to get to the NBA finals would be sweet redemption after what happened during the summer.
With enough salary-cap room for a pair of stars, the Bulls went after James, Wade and Bosh in the summer, hoping to land some combination of the two.
You know the rest of that story.
”We felt like we could compete against anybody,” Noah said. ”This is just a really exciting situation right now. The position that we’re in is unbelievable. We feel like we’re not satisfied, have a long way to go. Nobody believed that we could be in this position right now. We’re not worried about the praise. We’re not worried about the criticism. We’re just focused on what we need to do, and we believe in each other.”
The Bulls wound up with a league-leading 62 wins after hiring Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau and beefing up their roster with Boozer and solid role players. The biggest boost, of course, came from Rose, who emerged as the league’s youngest MVP and ended James’ two-year run while helping Chicago match its best record since the 1997-98 season, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen completed their second three-peat.
Along the way, the Bulls swept three close games from the Heat, winning them by a combined eight points. James missed the first with an ankle injury, Bosh went 1 for 18 in the second and the Heat shed tears after falling to Chicago again in March.
That was during a five-game losing streak, but Miami regrouped after that, winning 15 of 18 down the stretch and then knocking out both Philadelphia and Boston in five games. Now, the Heat will have to collect themselves again.
”We took it on the chin tonight,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
NOTES: Chicago’s Taj Gibson had a highlight reel dunk early in the second quarter when he threw down a vicious two-hander over Wade, leading to a three-point play. How impressive was it? Even Wade clapped about six times when he saw the replay. ”That was a good one,” Wade said. ”That’s a great ratio for me. First time I got dunked on all year. I’ll take my 90 to 1 (edge) on my blocks to my dunked-on (ratio). I really got punked. It was good. It was a very athletic play. I knew I didn’t have a chance. I was backpedaling when I saw him take off. He’s very athletic.” … This is the sixth time these teams have met in the playoffs, with the Bulls sweeping the Heat in the first round in 1992, 1996 and 2007 and beating them in five games in the 1997 conference finals. Miami beat Chicago in six games in the first round in 2006.