So much for speculation about the Miami Heat’s chances of going 16-0 in the NBA playoffs.
An old nemesis, the Chicago Bulls, eliminated that possibility with their 93-86 victory over the Heat in the first game of their second-round Eastern Conference series.
The Heat showed rust, a lot of it, Monday night in ending an eight-day layoff following their four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
But that wasn’t the reason they lost to an ailing Bulls team essentially down to its third-string point guard and without its No. 1 scorer and No. 3 rebounder in forward Luol Deng (16.5 and 6.3, respectively).
No, the Heat lost because they didn’t take advantage of the wealth of open shots they earned throughout the game and especially in the first half, when they made only a third of their attempts. If they shoot their season average (47 percent) in the first two quarters, they go into the third quarter up at least 10 points instead of tied 37-37.
For the game, they shot less than 40 percent from the field overall and under 30 from 3-point range. As a team, they were 7 of 24 on 3-pointers, but the usual suspects Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and Mike Miller were only a combined 4 of 17 from behind the arc.
The Heat lost because they were beaten badly on the boards, getting outrebounded 46-32, which led to a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points for the Bulls. That also essentially negated the advantage the Heat had in turnovers with just eight to the Bulls’ 15.
The Heat lost because they lost the defensive intensiveness they displayed through the first half. The Bulls shot only 40 percent in the first half, but improved to 47.2 in the second when they were 6 of 11 from 3-point range. The Bulls outscored the Heat 35-24 in the fourth quarter and 10-0 over the last 2:22.
And the Heat lost because they couldn’t contain Nate Robinson, who at 5-9 is one of the two smallest active players in the league and is considered the No. 3 point guard for the Bulls behind Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose, who both are dealing with injuries.
Robinson scored the last seven points of the game after Marco Belinelli’s 3-pointer had tied it at 86-86 with 1:59 left and finished the game with 27 points to lead all scorers.
The series now moves to Game 2 Wednesday night back in AmericanAirlines Arena on the shore of Biscayne Bay.
To regain the home-court advantage they gained by compiling the best record during the regular season, the Heat must win that one and then gain at least a split of Games 3 and 4 coming up in Chicago Friday and next Monday to turn this into a best two-out-of-three series.
In the Heat’s favor, the Bulls are still contending with health issues with Deng and Hinrich. The fatigue that was supposed to come into play because of their seven-game struggle with the Brooklyn Nets in the first round eventually could come into play.
Also, the Heat should expect to get more out of players like Chalmers (5 points in Game 1), Chris Bosh (9), Battier (6), and Allen (9), and even Dwyane Wade. Wade had 14 points in his first action since April 25 but turned the ball over three times and took an ill-timed 3-point attempt late in the game.
And LeBron James figures to get off to a better start after scoring just two points in the first half on his way to 24 for the game.
So, despite the loss in the series opener, it is far from time for the Heat to push the panic button. But if they lose Game 2, it might behoove them to find out where it is.