Blog Entry

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

Posted on: May 14, 2011 2:48 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 7:04 am
As the Heat and Bulls collide in the Eastern Conference Finals, we set the table for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and the rest. 

Posted by Matt Moore

The Bulls and Heat begin a hugely anticipated series on Sunday. It's full of drama, moreso than the usual ECF, what with the MVP and the Triad and Thibs and the Jordan legacy and everything else. Here then, are the top storylines of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. 

The Line: Talent vs. Teamwork

The Story: Sounds absurd, but consider how the Heat won the Celtics series. LeBron James drove on several occassions, but he also hit a barrage of 3-pointers, heavily contested.  Dwyane Wade hit ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot after ridiculous Dwyane-Wade-shot. The Heat finished off the reigning Eastern Conference Champs, the big bad boogeyman Celtics, in five games, despite not really getting contributions outside of the Big 3 from anyone past James Jones' 20-point Game 1. So there's a narrative starting to take shape that echoes a version of what was discussed in preseason when the Triad got together. Are the Heat really just that much better than everyone else, even if they're not an all-time team in terms of record? That's been the trend. The Heat really are living and dying by the virtue of their superior talent. That's the big clash in this series, because even with Rose, the Bulls represent a more collective team effort.

Is an overload of talent able to overcome a complete team, if the elite team commits to defense? Or is the complete team a more solid option because it's about the collective? The Heat aren't about one guy doing it all, they're about two guys doing it all and a third guy doing a lot, and a few other guys doing a little. Which, when you think about it, has actually been a fair model throughout the NBA considering all the 1a-1b duos we've seen. But it still feels like an abandonment of our principles that say it should be a team "15 strong"... you know, the motto of the 2006 NBA championship Heat. So this series, for all its overblown "good vs. evil" parallels, does have one point where it reflects a "moral" issue. The complete team vs. the top heavy approach is on display, even with Derrick Rose arguably the single best player and the highest usage player in the series. 

The Line: Is destiny held in the Bulls' season?

The Story: It's funny what six championships can do. The Jordan years taught Chicago, normally a pretty cynical sports city, an entirely new paradigm. We've seen the resurrection of the approach from those halcyon days this year as the Bulls climbed to contention, then domination, of the Eastern Conference.  I likened Bulls fans' belief in the 2011 Bulls to manifest destiny. They believe that as the heralds of the Jordan era, the team possesses a preternatural right to the championship. Rose is merely proof of that destiny. 

So what's the story of the Bulls this season, what prompts that claim to greatness? It follows the script, even if the exact times and elements don't line up. Boozer is surely no Pippen. Rose's first few playoff exits don't reek of the frustration Jordan suffered at the end of the 80's. But it is a star who took the league by storm, not riding pre-ordained hype like LeBron but instead making his own greatness. The youngest MVP in the league, strafed by an all-world defensive system created by a tactical genius and surrounded by shooters. The hometown kid takes the MVP, the top seed in the East, and eventually the championship. Isn't that how the dream's supposed to end? If anything's going to strike that spark of magnificence driven by imagination, it's this tale in the Windy City.

The Line:  Tom Thibodeau: the real Lebron-stopper

The Story: Boston failed. But then, was it really the same Boston who shut down LeBron James for three years (twice in the playoffs)? Doc Rivers is a great coach, but the defensive system has long been considered the work of Tom Thibodeau, who took his talents to Chicago and made them the best defense in the league. So did James really chase away any demons that had pursued him, or did different ghosts merely don the same costumes?

The elements that shut down James against Boston in years past are easily recognizable in Chicago.  James will clear the pick and roll and find two defenders cutting off his driving lane with a third covering the roll man. They'll bump him coming around screens enough for the weakside big to rotate. They'll challenge his dribble, challenge his passes, and focus on preventing him from getting to the rim. Thing is, the Celtics did a lot of that in their series against James, and he simply executed beyond them. James' jumper has gotten good enough to where it can force the Bulls out of their comfort zones. When that happens, cutters happen. 

Tom Thibodeau has orchestrated the best defense in the league for years. Instead of Rose vs. James, it's really Thibodeau vs. James we should be watching.

The Line: Which defense will have more impact? 

The Story: The Heat's defense is terrific. It's aggressive, athletic, sound, and consistent. It's just not as good as Chicago's. Chicago is able to make any game into a wrestling match in a trash dumpster. It's principles are flawless, the execution superb, and more important, consistent as clockwork. But this series really boils down to this question:

Will the Heat's great-not-best defense do more damage to Chicago's good-not-great offense than Chicago's best defense will do to Miami's great offense?

Chicago's offense can seem very strong. When Carlos Boozer is working off-ball, Rose is in rare form, Joakim Noah is taking opponents off the dribble, and Kyle Korver and Keith Bogans are nailing 3-pointers, they're a versatile, dynamic, balanced attack. They produce enough offensive rebounds to negate their inefficiency, an advantage that won't disappear against the Heat in all likelihood. But when the pieces don't come together, even when Rose is hot to trot, the total product can be less than impressive. The Bulls were 11th in offensive efficiency. When things aren't clicking, the whole orchestra's out of whack. Against a Miami defense that can shut down an opponent in their own right, the Bulls' offense could freeze solid. 

Compare that with the Heat's offense which is driven by players you can count on. As goos as the Chicago defense is, can it shut down Miami, who don't need open looks to create points? This balancing act will decide the series. The Bulls' defense doesn't need to be perfect, if they can get some production on offense. If not, then their defense and Rose will have to carry them, as they have all season. 

The Line: Is Derrick Rose ready?

The Story: Yes. Next Story. 

The Line: Who's the Underdog?

The Story: It's a fascinating question. All of our experts picked the Heat. Vegas has the Bulls. The majority of people are picking the Bulls, but saying they're picking the underdog. The Heat have the Triad. Chicago has the MVP. There's massive hype on both sides. Both teams will likely play with a chip on their shoulder. Trying to decipher who is really the one facing the bigger challenge is nearly impossible.  This is just two great teams meeting on even ground, with a slight advantage for Chicago in homecourt advantage. 

Who's the underdog? No one. Everyone's the favorite. That's what will make this so fun.

The Line: Derrick Rose/LeBron James is the best player in basketball. 

The Story:
This series shouldn't decide it. It's not reasonable for it to. But it's still going to feel like it. Both guys want it. Go get it.

Since: May 13, 2011
Posted on: May 15, 2011 6:30 pm

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

miami has the better talent .....heck may even beat 76ers and a legit celtic team. but  against a team like the bulls who's got the reigning MVP and coach of the year who only designed defensive plays that lebron can't do anything even from his cleveland days, it's bulls in 6!

Since: Oct 17, 2006
Posted on: May 15, 2011 11:12 am

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

Actually a well written article. Props.

I think this series will be great, however if the heat keep going with their aggressive attitude, they should would in it. The games they will lose will be the ones they don't play as a team. The ones when the players do nothing off the ball. As a Heat fan, I can't stand it when they don't pass the ball. It's not too hard when you have elite ball handlers. Lebron's 4.9 assists avg last series was way below his avg.

My prediction: There will be close games and couple blow outs (not sure which team will have the win)  but the Heats D will be too much for an OK Bulls offence being run by pretty much 1 good player. The combined score differential in the season series was 8 and the heat are a much better team now then they were then.

Heat in 6

Since: Jan 3, 2010
Posted on: May 14, 2011 3:27 pm

Will the big two pass the ball?

I'm curious to see if the Heat can actually run an offense and not turn into the Hawks and play one on one as they have been. They had 13 and 10 total team assists the last two games and are only averaging 15 a game in these playoffs.  By contrast, the Bulls had 34 team assists their last game.  Heavily contested, ridiculous shots are not the way to count on winning a game or series.  Team ball is and has not been shown at all by this supposed great offense. I think that point was missed here. If Wade and James continue to play like Joe Johnson and Jamaal Crawford (ball stopping chuckers) they are in trouble.   Wade and James have combined to take 50% of the Heat shots in these playoffs.  That volume of shots plus those low assist totals don't lie.  We hear they are great passers and playmakers. Regular season doesn't count now, can they show us?   


Since: May 4, 2011
Posted on: May 14, 2011 12:25 pm

Eastern Conference Finals Storylines

well done----beautifully written!

my two cents worth here:  w/ all due respect to the other contenders,  this ECF may out-finals the NBA finals 2011!!!!!!!!! 

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