May 16, 2011

Vegas Took Miami, Because Vegas Doesn't Believe in Santa Claus

Last night, the Eastern Conference Finals kicked off with a bang:

That garbage time dunk does a surprisingly nice job of summing up the game. The Heat are fundamentally small, and plan to beat teams with speed and athleticism (see: Lebron James and Dwyane Wade). Against Chicago, it didn't work. Taj Gibson was able to match up with James at power forward, even blocking one of his runners, and the bigger Bulls grabbed 19 offensive rebounds (that's a whole bunch). If that kind of stuff interests you, read this, which is chock full of interesting points on the subject (Zards had no idea Joel Anthony is only 6' 9" and the third worst rebounding center in the league. So weird Mark Jackson hadn't told us).

With the emphatic win, Bulls-backing pundits across the country heaved a sigh of relief. Picking the Bulls required more than logic, it took a little faith. TNT's Kenny Smith, defending his decision to go with Chicago, said "I still believe defense wins championships, and teams beat individuals." But his words were so reluctant you half expected him to tack on, "I think. Maybe. Oh god Lebron is good." To Smith's relief (and ours, to be honest) those cliches appeared to hold in Game 1, as the Bulls got contributions from everywhere while the Heat played dysfunctional one-on-one.

Watching Miami, it feels like at any moment they're going to "get it" and run through their opponent like a cyclone through a corn field, destroying the very notion of "team" in the process. They're hunting in the dark for that switch, and we're all desperately rooting for them to find it, or not. The possibility is deeply unsettling and wildly exciting. On Sunday that tension produced the highest rated cable broadcast of a pro basketball game ever. Somehow, after a 20 point blowout, the tension is even higher.

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