The Chicago Bulls trail two games to one in their uphill playoff battle against the top-seeded Miami Heat. If the Bulls want to extend the series beyond five games, Monday’s Game 4 at the United Center becomes a must-win.
Beating Miami is always going to take a healthy dose of luck, but the Bulls can maximize their chances by following this formula:
1. Play smart
The action after the whistle has gotten more attention in this series than what’s actually happening while the game clock is running. The Bulls have instigated much of that chippiness—witness Nazr Mohammed’s Game 3 ejection—and the refs will be watching the home team for any opportunity to assess a technical on Monday.
Tom Thibodeau will need to preach “do as I say, not as I do” after getting slapped with a fine for complaining about the officiating, but somebody has to convince the Bulls to keep their cool. Physical play is one thing, but all the pushing and shoving in dead-ball situations only serves to shorten an already thin Chicago bench.
2. Don’t get beaten by the supporting cast
One of the primary factors in Chicago’s Game 1 upset in Miami was that only two Heat players scored in double figures. Against most other teams, you’d rather prevent the stars from winning the game, but against the Heat, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can be even more dangerous as playmakers than they are as scorers.
If the likes of Ray Allen and Norris Cole continue to light up the scoreboard, Chicago has no hope. The Bulls must keep those secondary scorers from getting into a rhythm and hope they can find enough offense of their own to outpace James and Wade.
3. Hit the glass
No statistic has tracked with the outcome of the first three games better than rebounding margin. Joakim Noah and the Bulls won the battle on the boards in Game 1, got crushed in Game 2 and lost narrowly in Game 3—just as they did in the points column.
Rebounding is one of the few advantages the Bulls’ current starting lineup can lean on against the loaded Heat, and they’ve got to make it count. If Chicago doesn’t have at least two players in double figures on the boards, it’s not likely to come away with the victory.