"Every game against the Bulls is a physical game … we know that."
Reflective words from LeBron James, whose Miami Heat squad was bullied out of the United Center in a 101-97 loss to Chicago on Wednesday night. The defeat marked the end of Miami’s 27-game win streak, the second longest in NBA history.
I recently wrote about the invincibility of this Heat team, and I stand by my statements. But the Bulls taught the league a valuable lesson last night: If someone bigger and badder breaks into your house, don’t start a fistfight. Go get the baseball bat.
Before much else is said, I think a round of applause is in order. The only streak in league history the Heat didn’t demolish is that of the 1971-72 Lakers, who won 33 straight games en route to the franchise’s first championship since moving to Los Angeles.
And according to Rick Reilly, that streak was tougher: Where the Heat have their own private jet, the Lakers flew commercial, and often coach (you think you have trouble with leg-room?). Secondly, the Lakers had more back-to-backs, playing three games in four nights a total of four times during the streak alone: "If you asked the Heat to do [that] even once you'd be hearing from their lawyers." And finally, back then a player couldn’t enter the league until his college class had graduated, so those Lakers weren’t playing any zit-popping 19-year-olds. Their opponents were grown men, 260-pound centers with chest hair, bunions, and arthritis looming in the near future. Those games weren’t games; they were battles.
So the league has changed since the Nixon era, and this is news to nobody. But when LeBron complains about “hard fouls” in his postgame interviews, keep this in mind:
Those were on good days. And the '70s were arguably even more physical.
The point being, when the Heat aren't gifted with the kind of cakewalk match up that allows for a 27-point comeback victory on the road (I’m talking to you, Cleveland), life ain’t so pretty. And the Cavaliers were missing their best player in Kyrie Irving; Miami had no business being in that deficit in the first place.
They faced a similar predicament last night: Chicago’s Joakim Noah, a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year, was out with injury, and dynamic superstar point guard Derrick Rose has been bench-bound all season recovering from a torn ACL. But the Bulls approached last night’s game like they have every game this season: team and defense first. And they were richly rewarded.
Hard fouls, suffocating D, and Coach Thibodeau scowling from the bench: It seems that these are the ingredients for success against the Heat. In a postgame interview, Lebron was asked why playing the Bulls is so tough, to which he responded: "I don’t know if I like that question. We get that a lot … it’s never "What is it about the Miami Heat that makes it tough on other teams.'"
He’s wrong, of course: It seems that all we’ve heard from the sports media since early February is how hard it is to beat the Heat and why. But this question touched a nerve because there’s truth to it. The Bulls make the Heat feel something few other opponents do: pain. And that’s why they’re a tough match up for Miami.
There’s no way the Bulls take down the Heat in a seven-game series, but last night had to feel good.
Congratulations to both teams.