CHICAGO – On March 27, the Chicago Bulls poked, prodded, shoved, irritated, frustrated and defeated the Miami Heat 101-97 at the United Center, ending the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak.
More than six weeks later, the Heat have become the aggressor, poking, prodding, shoving, irritating, and defeating the Bulls in the second and third games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
And Chicago hasn’t responded well at all to Miami’s aggression. It was all good when Chicago did it to Miami, and now the Bulls don’t like it one bit.
One game after the Bulls were hit with six technical fouls, and center Joakim Noah and forward Taj Gibson were ejected, they didn’t respond much better in Miami’s 104-94 victory in Game 3 on Friday.
Noah earned a technical foul for shoving Miami’s Chris Andersen with 23.5 seconds left in the first quarter, and backup center Nazr Mohammed was ejected after shoving Heat forward LeBron James with 9:29 left in the second quarter.
An already depleted Bulls roster – no Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng – became even thinner with Mohammed’s ejection. The Bulls had to play seven players the rest of the game.
“From my angle, I saw a guy basically flop, and … I’m going to leave it at that,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of James’ reaction to Mohammed’s shove.
Mohammed fouled James as James crossed half court on his way toward the basket. James reacted by trying to get Mohammed off him, and James’ aggressive move earned him a technical foul from referee Joey Crawford.
It should have ended right there, but Mohammed, for some reason, decided to shove James, who fell to the court.
It was a poor decision by Mohammed even if the Bulls believe James flopped or embellished. Bulls point guard Nate Robinson called James an actor.
But In today’s NBA, a two-handed shove is going to receive scrutiny, and it resulted in Mohammed’s ejection, which Thibodeau said Mohammed didn’t deserve.
“I didn’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand flagrant foul. I understand that,” Thibodeau said. “But ejection? No. No. No.”.
Mohammed admitted he shouldn’t have shoved James but didn’t believe he should have been ejected. Both teams had to have known the officials weren’t going to tolerate much, especially after Game 2 and with Crawford the crew chief of the three-man officiating crew.
Almost every Thibodeau answer after the game was laced with some suggestion the Heat are getting all the calls and the Bulls are not. After Miami’s Game 2 victory, Thibodeau calmly scolded his team for not keeping their composure. He sided with his players after Game 3.
“I’m watching some of the other plays with (Udonis) Haslem and (Chris) Andersen, and I don’t get it. I don’t get it,” Thibodeau said.
He suggested the Heat are getting away with plays the Bulls cannot.
“Watching how things are going, I see how things are going,” Thibodeau said. “I watch very closely. I watch very closely. What I’m seeing is, we’ll adjust accordingly. ….
“When you play this team, you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness. Things aren’t going to go your way. That’s the way it is. We’re not going to get calls. That’s reality. We still have to find a way to get it done, and we can.”.
How did the Heat pull away in the fourth quarter, which started with the score tied at 70?
“They got to the free throw line,” Thibodeau said.
What did Thibodeau think of swingman Jimmy Butler’s game in which he played 48 minutes for the fourth time in five games and had 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals?
“Jimmy plays with a great demeanor, a lot of toughness. A great body position guy,” Thibodeau said. “I’m watching him play defense, and I’m looking at some of the things being called on him. He’s got a lot of toughness. He’ll figure it out.”.
What about Noah’s shove?
“As I said, we’re well aware of what’s going on, and I thought Jo for the most part did a great job, Thibodeau said. “He’s taking a lot of hits. He keeps battling. That’s what I expect from him. Had a tough call – a big offensive rebound – that went against him. He’s making great effort to get to the ball, making multiple efforts. That’s all you can ask of him.”.
Thibodeau tiptoed that thin line between a fine and no fine when it comes to public criticism of the referees. The NBA will determine if he crossed the line into the fine territory over the next couple of days.