The Chicago Bulls have never been afraid of the Miami Heat.
They cannot be. It does not fit their personality or Tom Thibodeau's personality to back down. Especially against this Heat team.
Miami has a ton of strengths that start with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Their unrelenting offensive ability and the defensive schemes that Erik Spoelstra has put in have made the Heat transcendant.
They do have a weakness and that is at center and point guard. With the Bulls not playing Derrick Rose, the inside is where they have decided to attack. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer in the paint, Chicago figured it had that advantage inside and the ability to be more physical than the undersized Miami team.
In Game One, the strategy seemed to work as Noah had 11 rebounds and the Bulls had a 46-32 advantage on the glass and a 26.5 percent offensive rebound rate against the Heat. In Game Two, despite that blowout, the Bulls posted a 26.7 percent offensive rebound rate. In Friday's Game Three, the Bulls again posted a 26.8 percent offensive rebound rate and Noah posted another 11 rebounds.
Game Two was when things certainly changed.
The blowout got under the Bulls' skin and tempers flared at the end of Game Two. Chicago has had it in its head probably since the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals loss. that was when their rivalry was really sparked and born as the Bulls felt they represented an older style of basketball and the Heat represented the "buddy culture" that the late-90s representatives detest.
The Bulls are bringing out the worst in the Heat now and that is exactly what they want.
On Friday night, after a game where Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah lost their cool, there was more cool losing and physical play.
Joakim Noah first lost his cool a bit when he ran up to Chris Andersen after he fell on top of Nate Robinson following a blocked shot and straight-up shoved Andersen back to the ground.
Then a few moments later in the second quarter, LeBron James reacted to a Nazr Mohammed foul with a shove. Then Mohammed responded with a hard shove to James (flop or not).
Physical play is part of the Playoffs. For Chicago though, it seems to be part of the strategy. It helped the team snap Miami's 27-game win streak earlier this season and it helped Chicago keep Game Three close. Chicago knows it cannot outscore Miami and so the team has to muck the game up and frustrate Miami.
For much of Game Three, LeBron James struggled as the Bulls directed him to the strong side defense and the overloaded side of the floor. He eventually found his way and had a pretty solid 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists (albeit on 6-for-17 shooting). That is the kind of inefficiency Chicago is trying to force.
And if the Bulls can knock him to the ground a few times, all the better.
One thing is for sure, Chicago has to continue to find a balance and stay physical without getting in foul trouble or losing their cool if they are going to even the series up Monday.