Monday morning, the Heat finished being assaulted by seven days of questions about a loss of sharpness from the week-and-a-day time lapse since finishing their first round series against Milwaukee.
Monday night, the Heat almost assaulted the hoop aesthetic senses of every basketball fan watching their Game 1 first quarter against Chicago with 12 minutes defining “rusty” better than the engine hood of a junkyard 1975 Vega.
Pick a number, any number: 5:13 of game time before the first field goal, Udonis Haslem’s layup; five of 19 (26.3 percent) from the field; one of seven from three-point range; four turnovers; three points, on Shane Battier’s lone three-pointer, leading the Heat in individual scoring; and 15 total points.
The 21-15 first-quarter deficit started the Heat down the path of their 93-86 Game 1 loss to Chicago.
“You want to defy the odds and not come out sluggish,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “But, we did. We had a lot of shots that were short.”
On the official play-by-play, the first line for a Heat possession is “James Bad Pass Turnover #1.” That phrase was called up again for James and the Heat’s second turnover just 41 seconds later. Wade’s first appearance on the sheet is “Wade Bad Pass Turnover #3.”
This is sometimes called “setting the tone.”
You could credit Chicago’s vaunted defense more if any Bulls stood within arm’s length of the Heat shooters on most of those brutal bricks from the outside. Or if the Heat had not blown four shots around the rim, not all of them well-contested.
“We had a good start,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought they had some good looks early that they missed. We’ll have to clean that up. They’ve been off for a while.”
One possession saw Battier clank an open three-pointer from the top right, James rebound, drive and set Battier up for an even more open three-pointer from the side. In and out, Bulls rebound.
“The first half, I liked the shots we were getting,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Hey, if you’re going to continue to give us those, those wide open ones, we’ll take them. The second half, the ball stopped moving as well as the first half. It didn’t seem like it in the first half, but we had some decent looks. It would not have been a 30-point quarter, but if we’d have made a few more of those open looks, a handful of those threes, it would’ve been different.
“Yes, we could’ve played better. They’re probably saying the same thing,” Spoelstra continued. “At the end of the day, we’re up by four going into the fourth in our building and we give up a 35-point quarter. You’re not going to win games doing that.”
After the morning shootaround, Spoelstra got asked how long it would take for the Heat to shake off the doldrums of inactivity.
“We’ll see. There isn’t a perfect system,” Spoelstra said. “It’s all conjecture really at this point. We might not have any rust. We don’t know. All we can do is make sure we prepared as best we possibly could this week. Simulate the conditioning and the intensity we can expect.”
A few minutes later, when asked “does any team play you harder than the Chicago Bulls, particularly their frontcourt with Joakim [Noah], Carlos [Boozer] and Taj [Gibson],” Heat forward Chris Bosh replied, “Yeah, our White Team when we play them in practice. We push each other pretty hard.
“They’re a hard-playing team,” Bosh said. “It’s not anything ridiculous and nothing we haven’t seen before. They’re a very good team. We’re looking forward to a tough series.”