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Don’t expect pretty basketball in rest of Bulls-Heat series

Bulls center Joakim Noah is stopped as he drives baseline second half Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss Miami Hegame two Eastern

Bulls center Joakim Noah is stopped as he drives the baseline in the second half of the Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss to the Miami Heat in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday May 18, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 7:21PM

There was an undeniable advantage the Bulls had throughout the first 12 games of this playoff run.

If the talent on the court didn’t overwhelm the opposition, their toughness would.

Indiana? The Pacers traded a few body blows but soon found out they were in the ring with superior talent.

Atlanta? Definitely some talent, but when push came to shove, the mentally soft Hawks didn’t want to partake in either the push or the shove.

And Game 1 against the Heat?

The Big Three had two no-shows and played more prima donna than premier talent. The bullies from South Beach were punched in the nose, saw their own blood and seemed to get very disinterested in finishing the tango.

It’s amazing what two off days in the Windy City and a lot of soul searching can do, because in Wednesday night’s Game 2, the bully got off the ground and punched back. Hard.

Just like that, the logo with the blood on the horns seems a little less intimidating as the series moves to the glitz and sun of Miami.

“That fourth quarter is probably what’s going to epitomize this entire series,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s an absolute street fight for both teams, defensive-oriented teams. I don’t know if the basketball aficionado likes a 14-10 score in the fourth quarter, but that’s probably what it’s going to come down to.’’

Basketball aficionados be damned, because if they want to see pretty basketball, they might want to record the Mavericks-Thunder series. Bulls-Heat? This series is about to go old school, to the days of the “Bad Boys’’ from Detroit standing in the way of Michael and the Jordanaires.

Blue-collar basketball

That means swarming defenses, scoring as an afterthought and extra bleach in the washer to get the stains out of the uniforms.

And while we all knew the Bulls were capable of this type of toughness — as if coach Tom Thibodeau would have it any other way — who knew the Heat was prepared to crawl into that foxhole?

“The whole game was defense,’’ LeBron James said. “The fourth quarter was Miami defense.’’

The last person to talk that tough about Miami was Sonny Crockett. Or was it Tubbs? Either way, the mental stranglehold the Bulls had over the Heat all season long is broken. More important, the Bulls are the ones that have to react to being outhustled and out-talented on the same night for the first time in these playoffs.

“We’re definitely confident,’’ Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said when asked about looking forward to Game 3 on Sunday. “I know we can’t wait to play again. We’re the type of team where when things get tough, we stay together. We’re not going different ways.

“Coach always talks about this, where the playoffs are going to challenge you every way possible. And we just got to stick together and know that it’s going to be a fun series.’’

That’s why this series is far from over.

The Wednesday victory was more important to the Heat than it was a chink in the armor for the Bulls. The Heat knows it will have to roll up the sleeves and get its hands dirty to win games. The team understands the effort playing the Bulls demands.

Heat has the talent

“We understand it’s going to be a physical game,’’ Game 2 standout Udonis Haslem said. “On the boards, every time a shot goes up, those guys are crashing. Defensively, they are challenging every shot. And we use the term ground and pound. We have to continue to fight, fight. Those guys aren’t going to give up.’’

For their part, the Bulls know that their effort can be matched by another team with talent, and even surpassed.

Fortunately for the Bulls, defense and determination travel well. They fit nicely in the suitcase marked “Miami bound,’’ right next to the orange Brioni suit and Louis Vuitton Lexington loafers in suede calf leather.

Then there’s always the “Thibs Factor.’’ You can guarantee that the coach has broken down every single movement of the Game 2 film, including taking note that several LuvaBulls were out of step in their “Kid Rock’’ dance routine.

“We have to be a lot more consistent,’’ Thibodeau said. “Our defense and rebounding are two things we have to be able to count on.’’

There is one benefit to the Bulls now going to Miami, however. A nice tan could only help cover up the black eye.

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