CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah's eyes lit up after hearing the question, as though it were an offensive rebound caroming off the glass. He leaned forward, made eye contact, and did as good a job as his team did of dismissing the notion that the Eastern Conference finals would be all about Miami's star power.
"That's funny to me," Noah said. "This is what all of us have been dreaming about our whole lives, to play in these situations. And because people are saying it's one superstar vs. three superstars, people think that's what motivates us?"
Whatever it was, Game 1 went about as well as the Bulls could've dreamed. They dominated the star-studded Heat 103-82 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, proving what a flawed notion it was to paint Chicago as a one-man team.
"We've got a monster at the point," Noah said. "That's no secret. And if you try to double-team him, we have playmakers that can make plays. We have a lot of options."
Funny, nobody in the Bulls' victorious locker room Sunday night could remember people being too impressed with their options or talent back in July, when Miami assembled its star-studded trio of free agents and the Bulls signed ... Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer.
"We don't know who writes about what," said Boozer, who had 14 points and nine rebounds as Chicago's "big three" went point-for-point with Miami's. Boozer, Rose (28), and Luol Deng (21) equaled the offensive output of Chris Bosh (30), Dwyane Wade (18), and LeBron James (15).
"Nobody was talking about us at the beginning of the season," Boozer said. "Not too many people were talking about us throughout the season. And there might not be too many people talking about us now. But everybody in this room believes in each other and we're going to keep grinding, helping each other out, and doing what we do."
|Heat-Bulls: Game 1|
What they did Sunday night was suffocate Miami's star-studded offense with defensive intensity and cohesiveness straight out of the Celtics' playbook -- only better. That's what former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau brought to Chicago, a proven system for slowing down LeBron and Wade. But what was so stunning about the Bulls' series-opening statement was how easily they scored against Miami's vaunted and athletic defense. It had been more than two months since anyone had scored 100 against Miami, and the Heat hadn't surrendered 100 points in a loss since March 29 in Cleveland.
The tipping point was the Bulls' 19 offensive rebounds, resulting in a 31-8 advantage in second-chance points -- a beatdown on the boards that James called "demoralizing."
"If we're serious about winning," Bosh said, "we have to change that."
The Heat came to Chicago with an advantage in star power and athleticism, yet were left stunned when the Bulls' Taj Gibson made the two most athletic plays of the game -- a poster-worthy stuff in Wade's face in the second quarter and a one-handed, one-motion throwdown on a putback that gave the Bulls their biggest lead, 103-80.
"Did you see the two dunks that he had?" Boozer said at his locker, his eyes wide with amazement. "I wish I was 22 again. When he did it, I felt like we all did it."
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago, giving the Heat two practice days to figure out how to stop the Bulls' rebounding parade and make what could be the biggest tactical decision of the series: Does Erik Spoelstra continue playing two unproductive and overmatched point guards, starter Mike Bibby and backup Mario Chalmers, or make another starting lineup change? Though Rose didn't do all the damage Sunday night, his penetration and the Heat's defense collapsing on him left Miami out of position on the boards.
"Derrick is amazing," Boozer said. "Don't underestimate how good he is, first of all. Let's make that point. He's amazing. But we do our roles. We have our roles. Everybody's role is to play D. Everybody's role is to help out. On offense, we just take what's there. If they collapse on him, we have to shoot the ball. On the drive and kick, we have to do a better job finishing, make it easier on him. We're a team; all 15 of us. That's the reason we've been here and that's the reason we're where we are."
Nobody saw that coming 10 months ago, when the Heat crowned themselves champions, and when media outlets assigned one reporter after another to document their every word and move. There are no websites dedicated to the Bulls' "big three," no "Bulls Index" to dissect Chicago's obscure role players. There would've been plenty to analyze Sunday night, as the Bulls' bench outscored Miami's 28-15, with Gibson scoring the four most memorable points by anyone on the floor.
"We have the best bench in the NBA," Noah said. "We are a confident group, and we have the most humble superstar in the NBA. Our leader is a humble guy who doesn't go into a game with any mindset like, 'I'm going to score this many points.' Just making the right play every time, and it's all about winning. I feel very lucky to play with somebody like that."
He feels lucky now, and he felt lucky back in July, when everyone else was busy mailing the championship trophy to Miami.
"From the start, we felt like we could compete against anybody," Noah said. "This is just a really exciting situation right now. The position we're in is unbelievable. We're not satisfied, and we feel we have a long way to go. Nobody believed that we could be in this position right now. We're not worried about the praise, we're not worried about the criticisms. We're just focused on what we need to do."