Miami Vice: Chicago Takes a Commanding 3-0 Grip on the SeriesChicago outscored the Miami Heat 32-20 in the fourth quarter, winning game three 104-96 and putting the defending champions on the brink of first round elimination. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit, the challenge that now faces Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and company. Three Bulls scored at least 20 points: Ben Gordon (27), Luol Deng (24, plus 11 rebounds) and Kirk Hinrich (22). Wade led Miami with 28 points, adding nine rebounds and five assists, but he shot just 12-27 from the field and 4-10 from the free throw line. O'Neal had 23 points and 13 rebounds, shooting well from the field (10-17) but abysmally from the free throw line (3-12). The other three Heat starters--Udonis Haslem, Jason Kapono and Jason Williams--combined for 12 points and two rebounds on 3-14 shooting.
This is why Chicago broke the bank to acquire Ben Wallace, whose value is rarely completely tallied in the boxscore: he had 11 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three steals and one blocked shot, statistics that are seemingly dwarfed by O'Neal's, but one number hints at Wallace's true value--41, the number of minutes that he played, second on the Bulls behind Hinrich. Wallace provides energy and inside presence and is the final piece of the puzzle for the Bulls, who have developed a really nice corps of perimeter players led by Deng, Gordon and Hinrich.
The Bulls beat Miami 108-66 on opening night, took the season series 3-1 and are one win away from sweeping the Heat. The Pistons can say all they want about not missing Wallace but it is obvious that that he has provided a big boost to the Bulls. How much do you think he is looking forward to a possible second round matchup with his old team? Last year I asked Would you pay $20 million for an old Diesel? and concluded that O'Neal would only be worth his bloated salary if he led the Heat to a title--mission accomplished, so he was worth the big price tag, even if this season goes down in flames. Meanwhile, a similar standard should be applied to Wallace and his huge contract: it's not about statistics or regular season wins but rather what you do in the playoffs. The Bulls lost to the Heat in the first round last year, so if they make an extended playoff run (i.e., at least to the Conference Finals) then Wallace can fairly be said to have been worth the cost.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:50 AM