Another 48 minutes of torture for the Chicago Bulls revealed something that is no secret. If Derrick Rose does not take all of his offensive talents to South Beach, the Bulls are in big trouble.
The NBA playoffs are not always aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, unless guards walking the ball up the court, isolation plays, missed layups, countless shot fakes and officials making bizarre calls is your idea of entertainment.
Three games into the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls and Miami Heat are producing basketball’s version of waterboarding. In the past two games, Rose has been effectively detained by the Heat defense.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were the second- and third-best players on their team Sunday, when Miami was able to grind out a 96-85 win to grab a 2-1 edge in a best-of-7 series that has turned because the Bulls are worse offensively.
“These games are ugly. These aren’t the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s,” Cal Neva sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It’s going to be a brutally contested series all the way through. Either one of these teams can go scoreless for four or five minutes, and whoever has the longest drought is going to lose.”
The Bulls suffered the costly dry spell in Game 3, which went over the total of about 180 despite an 18-15 first quarter. The teams combined for 100 points in the second and third quarters.
Rose shot 8-for-19 and got to the free-throw line only three times. He finished with 20 points — under his prop total of 25½ at the Las Vegas Hilton — and he’ll need to be in the neighborhood of 30 for Chicago to even the score Tuesday.
Three options are better than one, even if one of Miami’s three is Chris Bosh. If James and Wade are Crockett and Tubbs, Bosh is normally the third wheel. But his 34-point performance was exactly what the Heat needed.
Knee-jerk reactions are common in analyzing any series. Many who jumped on the Bulls bandwagon after their dominant Game 1 victory are now warming to the idea of the Heat in the NBA Finals.
“I don’t think it’s over. The Bulls can still win it,” Bogdanovich said. “I don’t think the Bulls are done.”
Chicago is not without hope, mostly because Tom Thibodeau is the better coach and Rose is capable of changing the momentum of the series. But the Bulls will need to speed up the tempo and make certain Rose runs an offense stuck in slow motion.
Miami led by three points after each of the first three quarters before pulling away to cover as a 5-point favorite, and enough bettors parlayed the Heat and over the total to beat the books.
“Anytime an isolated big game comes favorite and over, it’s never good,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s unbelievable that game went over, to say the least.”
Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books, said wiseguy money showed late on the under. Miami shot 50.7 percent from the field and hit 25 of 29 free throws to push the score over.
“We got beat up a little bit with the favorite and over,” Vaccaro said. “We got squareball money over and the smarts bet it under. I say squareballs but I say it in a nice way. I think they’re smarter than us. It’s hard to bet under 179 no matter how you look at it.”
I’ll bet the Bulls in Game 4, but in-running wagering is a strategy I’ve found useful in the playoffs. The point spread, moneyline and total are updated at each timeout, and the Cal Neva, Cantor Gaming and Hilton books are offering in-running lines.
“It just gives you more options,” Bogdanovich said. “I think it will take off. It’s here to stay. It’s in its infancy, but I think it will be big down the road.”
The Dallas Mavericks’ road win Saturday changed the face of the West finals. The high-scoring trend from the first two games went by the wayside in Game 3 as the Thunder shot 1-for-17 from 3-point range and scored 12 points in the first quarter of a 93-87 loss.
Kevin Durant will reappear and Oklahoma City, a 4-point favorite today, can be expected to bounce back. The total has dipped to 195½ after hitting a peak of 201½ in Game 2.
If the Finals matchup is Dallas-Miami, Vaccaro said his book is in good shape in terms of futures wagers with Boston, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers out of the picture.
“When the Heat faded a little bit early in the season, there was an outpouring of Celtics money,” Vaccaro said.
The spotlight is back on the Heat. But Rose has the talent and the Bulls still have time to crash the party on South Beach.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.