Wounded Bulls defeat the Heat and the Spurs rise from the dead
For fans of the losing teams, Monday night's games must have felt like horror movies. First, . In the evening's second basketball thriller, the in a harrowing, literally scream-filled double overtime classic.
If it seems a bit much to compare this Chicago Bulls team to a horror movie villain, just marvel at all the injuries and health problems they have faced and yet they keep on going. The are not only playing without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, still controversially rehabbing the ACL injury he suffered in the first game of last year's playoffs, but are also without minutes-per-game leader Luol Deng, still recovering from the gruesome after-effects of a botched spinal tap, as well as veteran defensive sparkplug Kirk Hinrich. Their best active player, Joakim Noah is playing on a torn plantar fascia and their second best player right now, which is Nate Robinson improbably, played the entire second half of Monday night's Game 1 stitched up after an on-the-court injury. At this point if an opposing team needs to defeat them they might have to follow vampire slaying guidelines by decapitating them and driving stakes in their hearts. Although, presumably not while the game is still going on, because those actions would probably be called as flagrant fouls.
When this hurting and depleted Bulls team came into Miami's American Airlines Arena on Monday night to face the relatively healthy Miami Heat, the scene played out like a zombie movie, as Chicago's defense swarmed LeBron James, only to then be limited to just two points in the entire first half. Despite playing hurt and logging heavy minutes, Jimmy Butler, . The Bulls were somehow even better down the stretch, scoring the last 10 points in the 93-86 victory.
The story of the Bulls' resilience begins with their Game Six loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night. Despite the facts that the Bulls' roster was even more depleted than usual thanks to a nasty outbreak of the flu and Robinson was active despite the fact that he was vomiting on Chicago's bench during the game, the Brooklyn Nets only barely held on to . The Bulls' near-comeback ended up being a prelude to their Game Seven performance on the road at Barclays Center, as Joakim Noah led the Deng-less team to a , ending both their season and the tenure of interim Nets head coach P.J. Carlesimo.
The most improbable part of the Bulls postseason run has been how their health concerns have forced Chicago to rely on players they normally wouldn't. In the case of Jimmy Butler and, especially Nate Robinson, this necessity has actually begun to pay off. Forced by injuries into a starting position that few NBA experts believed he could handle, Robinson has caught fire in the playoffs. Most notably, .
As great as that performance was, it may have just been a prelude to what Robinson did to the Miami Heat on Monday night, scoring 27 points against the best team in basketball. It wasn't even as if Robinson had changed his game, he was mostly throwing up his usual shots that no sane player would ever make, which is quite possibly why the Miami Heat defense had no answer when they started to fall in. Robinson even provided an additional moment of on-the-court symbolism for this relentless Bulls team as he took a nasty cut from on his mouth late in the first half, . As if the Bulls' postseason run hadn't already somewhat resembled a splatter film.
The Chicago Bulls, of course, were the team that handed the Heat their most memorable defeat of the regular season when they. The fact that the Bulls have defeated this Heat team twice with the whole world watching, at least leaves open the possibility that this Heat team might actually be vulnerable.
Most likely, of course, this loss doesn't definitively say anything about the Heat. Even the biggest Heat homers weren't through the last three rounds of the playoffs. It's a tad surprising that the Heat's first loss came at home, but it's not unheard of for a team that has had a week-long layoff like Miami comes off rusty against an opponent coming in with the momentum like Chicago. Now, if the Bulls hold LeBron James to two points in a half in Wednesday night's Game Two? Well then this series might get really interesting.
The losing team on Monday night that should be worried would be the Golden State Warriors, who seemed to be cruising to an easy road victory over the San Antonio Spurs for much of the second half. Thanks to an , who has been the best player in the NBA Playoffs so far, Golden State built a 16 point lead on San Antonio with four minutes left in regulation. However, the Warriors' issues with closing out games came back to haunt them as the Spurs came back from the dead to force overtime, eventually winning the game 129-127 in double overtime. The Spurs not only turned an almost certain defeat into a Game One victory, they also landed what could be a huge psychological victory against the talented but inexperienced Warriors.
Monday night's epic Game One was partially a testament to Gregg Popovich's Spurs team's resilience, they are a veteran team seemingly impervious to the ravages of time and age. (This is not suggesting that the Spurs are, in fact, among the legion of the undead, although this would help explain Tim Duncan.) It also completely exposed the fact that this somewhat undisciplined Warriors team can struggle to put away opponents. Most notably, during the end of their series-clinching Game Six victory over the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors could have sealed a win simply by maintaining better possession of the ball, , giving the Nuggets the chance to sneak back in the game. , they would not be so lucky in San Antonio.
As the Spurs began making their comeback, the scene at AT&T Center took a turn towards the surreal. For many TV viewers, the in-game sound from the stadium , which combined with the ridiculous music selection of the PA, bad and out-of-date dance music far more suitable to a late 90's wedding reception than a sporting event in 2013. As Golden State's increasingly desperate shots stopped falling in the fourth, the San Antonio Spurs went on a 18-2 run to force overtime.
Despite the change in momentum, the Warriors were able to force double overtime and even take a one-point lead when . But horror movie aficionados had seen this trick before, it was the scene where the heroes are seemingly safe after escaping almost certain doom, the moment when the apparently dead villain makes one more shocking return. On this night, Manu Ginobili played the role of by hitting the game-winning three-pointer:
(Mind you, Ginobili's shot would have been a tad more dramatic had it not been preceded by the PA playing a terrible remix of C+C Music Factory's .) The Warriors had a few seconds to either win or take the game to a third overtime but Jarrett Jack's last second shot failed to go in.
The night could not have gone worse for the Warriors. Not only did the team blow a huge lead in the game's final minutes, while having their biggest weakness thoroughly exposed, they also wasted a transcendent shooting performance from Steph Curry, who scored 44 points in nearly 58 minutes of game time. This possibly rattled team, who need at least one road win to advance to the next round, now have lost 30 straight games in San Antonio. If Golden State loses their 31st straight, the fourth quarter of Monday night's Game One might end up marking the moment when this Western Conference Semi-Finals transformed from a winnable series into a bloodbath.
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