The Heat’s uncharacteristic defensive lapse in the fourth quarter of Game 1 continued to gnaw at Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a day after his team’s 93-86 loss to the Bulls on Monday night.
The Heat was outgunned 35-24 in the final period, with the Bulls scoring the final 10 points of the game. At the center of Chicago’s dominant late-game charge was diminutive point guard Nate Robinson, who scored nine of the Bulls’ final 12 points, including the last seven of the game.
The days between games in a tight series are always about making the proper adjustments, but Spoelstra bristled when asked a question about his decision to sub out defensive specialist Norris Cole in favor of starter Mario Chalmers with 5:38 left in the game. With Chalmers and Ray Allen guarding the perimeter, Robinson had a hand (points or assists) in 14 of the Bulls’ final 17 points, including a driving, finger-roll layup that put Chicago ahead 90-86 with 45.5 seconds left.
“The guy had [27 points], so he had it going most of the game,” Spoelstra said of Robinson.
If Robinson’s ability to create havoc in the Bulls’ pick-and-roll game seemed vaguely familiar, that’s because former Dallas Mavericks reserve J.J. Barea, also tiny by NBA standards, pestered the Heat in similar fashion during the 2011 NBA Finals. Robinson had his breakout series last week against the Nets, averaging nearly four more points per game than in the regular season, and he will continue to be a focal point of the Bulls’ offense with guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich out of action. He had 27 points and nine assists in Game 1.
Robinson found room to operate against the Heat late in the game, but it’s not like he wasn’t on the Heat’s scouting report. Allen emphasized putting pressure on Robinson before the series started, saying the Nets let Robinson “move all over the place.”
“The pick and rolls he came off, he was very free,” Allen said a day before the second-round series began.
But it takes two levels of defenders to deny a player of Robinson’s quickness and strength of a clear path to the basket, so placing all of the blame on Allen and Chalmers would be inaccurate. The Heat’s frontcourt players share equal responsibility for picking up Robinson once he moves into the paint.
After Monday’s defensive debacle, LeBron James said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he was “stuck” guarding Robinson late in games. “I’ll take the challenge on anyone,” James said.
Heading into Game 2, Spoelstra is more concerned about the Heat’s ball movement late in games than getting James more shots in the first half. James attempted just six shots in the first half in Game 1 and scored only two points, a career postseason low.
“Offensively in the first half, we actually had good looks, and we’ll take those looks that we got,” Spoelstra said. “[James] was part of the facilitating. That wasn’t our problem. Our guys understand that. In the second half, the ball stopped moving. We stopped committing to executing offense, and they flattened us out.”
• It’s unlikely that Bulls forward Luol Deng will be available for Game 2, but Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t rule him out Tuesday. Deng is recovering from a spinal tap after a meningitis scare during the Bulls’ first-round series. He did not fly with the team to Miami on Sunday and remains in Chicago. Doctors will decide Wednesday morning if Deng is healthy enough to fly down for Game 2.
Hinrich (sore calf) also seems doubtful for Game 2. He reported having difficulty moving Tuesday.