CHICAGO | Defense is like your obnoxious uncle, Lenny, whom everyone tolerates at parties.
The NBA and stout defense go together like healthy and fast food, but contenders gladly cherish that mindset.
The Bulls are in such company.
They tipped off Sunday afternoon against the defending champion Miami Heat owning the league's No. 2 defense (92.2 ppg.) and trailing the Pacers (92.0) by only a chin whisker.
The Bulls play bloody 'D' because they actually want to, they love that physical style, and because coach Tom Thibodeau would run them off in a heartbeat if they didn't.
Ask Miami's LeBron James. He's still got bruises.
Since April 14, 2013, James had been "held" to 22.5 ppg. on .450 shooting in eight matchups with Chicago. Against the rest of the NBA, his averages were 27.0 ppg. and .560 from the field.
Sunday was another headache for the perennial MVP after shooting 8 of 23, being held without a free throw attempt, and finishing with 17 points in Miami's 95-88 overtime loss.
Say it two times: DE-fense. DE-fense.
"They did a pretty good job on the boards. They are a good rebounding team," James said of the Bulls' 47-42 advantage. "They turned us over a few times and got into a good rhythm to get back into the game.
"We had a lot of opportunities to win the game. We just couldn't finish when it came down to it."
You were expecting flowery praise? Not from Miami's players, though coach Erik Spoelstra knows true grit and fire when he sees it.
"They did a good job keeping us out of the paint, a good job keeping us out of our normal areas," he said. "They make you have to work for offense."
Added Chicagoan Dwyane Wade: "It came down to second-chance points."
That would be 27-6, Bulls.
Defense is not sexy or fun, unless you're the Bulls or a Hollywood lawyer. It's their lifeblood, their personal high.
"Everyone played terrific and we needed the defense," Thibodeau said.
"We're really on a string with one another," Taj Gibson explained. "We follow one another. We talk. We switch. We have certain combinations. We believe in the system, the defensive sets 'Tibs' gives us."
Miami shot 52 percent the first half, only 43 for the game.
Wade led the Heat with 25 points, 17 coming in the first half.
Gibson and Jimmy Butler did a stalking number on James, prevented him from attacking the basket, and kept him off the foul line for the first time in 4 1/2 seasons — a span of 332 games.
Adding to the Heat's misery were 18 turnovers leading to 19 Chicago points.
Can't say it enough.