Duct tape can only hold a team together but for so long, as the Bulls were faced with a daunting task of going against a rested Miami Heat squad while being on the back end of a grueling back-to-back set.
With no Derrick Rose and no Jimmy Butler, the Bulls didn’t have enough star power to hold off the stalking Heat, falling back to .500 with a 118-96 loss at the United Center Friday.
Rose was a scratch with a groin strain he suffered in San Antonio, and Butler’s status is still uncertain for the moment.
And it was an old bugaboo that killed the Bulls as they held a lead for the better of two and a half quarters but as the final score indicated, they couldn’t hold onto it, nor could they keep it close when things started going in the opposite direction.
“Guys are doing their best,” said center Pau Gasol. “At the end of the day, we’re playing against some good teams that have good rhythms, that are healthier than us and especially in the fourth quarters, we can’t keep up.”
More turnovers did the trick, as they have it away 18 times and appeared to start a new streak of giving up 100 points in games.
“It started with us not taking care of the basketball,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That has to stop if we want any chance of going on a run this last half of the schedule.”
After Goran Dragic kept the Bulls in it early, with wizardly layups and creative drives to the basket, the rest of the Heat joined the party, and the party was over for the Bulls who were buoyed early by the likes of Justin Holiday and Gasol.
Dragic scored 26 with nine assists, hitting 10 of 16 field goals and being a plus-26 while on the floor.
Gasol scored 17 with 12 rebounds and nine assists but also had six turnovers, the biggest single culprit as no other Bull had more than two. Holiday hounded Dwyane Wade, who was playing with an injured shoulder, and scored 24 points in 38 minutes.
“We were in it, we played hard,” said Taj Gibson, who scored 13 points with six rebounds in 24 minutes. “We were a couple plays away from making big things happen. We kept fighting, kept playing but it got out of hand late.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
The Heat got hot and the Bulls ran out of gas late—along with good players.
Joe Johnson got cooking again, a chief reason why many feel the Heat can give more than a cursory challenge to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a NBA Finals berth, scoring 15 in 28 efficient, low-maintenance minutes.
An alley-oop from Luol Deng to Hassan Whiteside took all the air out of the floor and seemingly the building as the Bulls had no fight left. Deng spearheaded the decisive 26-4 run that took an 84-83 Heat lead to 110-87 with 3:52 left. In a stretch, he hit a wing triple to put them up 91-85, followed by a steal and then an inside basket, two of Miami’s 62 points in the paint.
It didn’t hurt the Miami Heat franchise has found a jewel in guard Josh Richardson, a second round pick who’s begun to find his way in the last month. Richardson hit four triples and scored 22 points in 31 minutes off the bench, outperforming Aaron Brooks, who went just four of 12 and often found himself running into Whiteside in the paint, who altered or blocked his shot altogether.
“We started turning over the ball, we lost a lot of possessions which resulted in them running out and getting wide open layups and three’s,” Hoiberg said. “Especially in the fourth quarter when they went on a run. It snowballed and went in the wrong direction.”
Deng scored 19 with six rebounds while Whiteside obliterated the interior with 13 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.
To say the Bulls provided little resistance on the defensive end was a mild understatement, as the game looked like an instant replay of their earlier meeting in Miami that saw the Heat put up 129 points.
The Heat didn’t quite get there this time, but shooting 62 percent from three and 52 percent overall was more than enough to pull away when things got tight.
Aggressive defenses have their way with the Bulls, and Friday was no exception as the Heat followed the playbook established by the Rockets, Bucks and San Antonio Spurs.
“Last night was a product of our guys bringing the ball down and trying to squeeze it in small places,” Hoiberg said. “Tonight, same thing. They converge, they have strong hands and are physical, and we can’t put ourselves in that position.”
Again, the Bulls didn’t themselves no favors on the other end, forcing just eight turnovers and their only saving grace was Wade being unable to get himself going and forcing the action early to kill their momentum.
But the Heat kept stalking the Bulls and as their best talent was in suits or any other place besides a uniform, it became quick work as the Bulls squandered an opportunity to take advantage of a Pistons loss in Charlotte.