The Heat Surges Late and Gains a Split in Chicago
The Heat Surges Late and Gains a Split in Chicago.
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CHICAGO — The bodies and jersey numbers did not need to change. That much, Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat insisted to anyone who would listen. This battle with the Bulls would not come down to personnel, but personality, and the Heat went in search of its own during a tedious two-day gap in the Eastern Conference finals.
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Enlarge This ImageJonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Dwyane Wade, putting up a shot against Joakim Noah, had 24 points and 9 rebounds for Miami.
Enlarge This ImageJonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Derrick Rose had 21 points for the Bulls but was unable to score on this play against LeBron James.
By late Wednesday evening, the Heat had reclaimed its identity and claimed a huge victory, rolling over the Chicago Bulls, 85-75, at the United Center to steal home-court advantage.
The night was defined by defense, mostly Miami’s, which throttled Derrick Rose, flustered Luol Deng and turned Carlos Boozer into a footnote. The Heat held the Bulls to 34 percent shooting and secured the win in a plodding, grinding, grisly fourth quarter, which Miami won, 14-10.
Spoelstra, the Heat’s coach, called it “an absolute street fight.” He said it like it was a good thing.
“We’re an aggressive, physical team,” Spoelstra said. “All season long we’ve proved that. We played a little bit more to our identity tonight.”
This is what Spoelstra had called for in recent days, as he resisted changes to his lineup and rotation, promoting instead a change in posture. He got it from his stars, asLeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 53 points, 19 rebounds and 4 steals.
James broke through the Bulls’ swarming defense to score 29 points, including 9 of Miami’s last 12 points, as the Heat pulled away late.
The score was tied, 73-73, with 4 minutes 36 seconds left. James hit a 3-pointer, then followed with a 13-footer over Rose as Miami took the lead for good. James and Wade put their final defensive stamps on the game down the stretch, with James stripping Deng and Wade blocking Rose’s 3-point try.
“The whole game was defense tonight,” James said.
The Heat takes a 1-1 split back to Miami, where the series resumes — after an even longer and more tedious break — on Sunday. This time, it is the Bulls who will be navel gazing on the days off. Chicago also lost home-court advantage to Atlanta in the second round before beating the Hawks in six games.
“We let one go,” said Deng, who had just 13 points and missed 10 of 15 shots in his duel with James. “But it’s a tied series. It’s not the end of the world. These things will happen.”
Rose struggled all night, finishing with 21 points while going 7 for 23 from the field. Aside from Deng, no other Bull scored in double figures. Boozer had 7 points and 8 rebounds, in a flashback to the Atlanta series, when he was booed by Bulls fans.
“If anything, they closed down the lane,” Rose said. “But I missed a lot of layups, shots that I normally hit.”
With Wade (24 points) and James dominating, the game turned into what the Bulls feared most — a duel of two superstars against one (Rose). That is a battle Chicago cannot win.
The victory was the Heat’s first in five tries against Chicago, counting the regular season. Not coincidentally, it was Miami’s first time winning the rebounding battle, 45-41. After allowing the Bulls another flurry of offensive rebounds — 7 in the first quarter — the Heat clamped down, holding them to 10 the rest of the game, cutting off the second-chance scoring opportunities.
“They’re a bigger team than us,” James said, “but height is not all there is to it. It’s the will to get it.”
The Heat led by 11 points in the third quarter but scored on just 1 of its first 12 possessions in the fourth. The Bulls rallied to tie the score at 73-73 on Taj Gibson’s dunk. Then James hit his 3-pointer, sending Miami on a 12-2 run to close the game. The Bulls went 4:47 without scoring.
Miami’s anxious search for bench help led back to where it began, to Udonis Haslem, who was projected as a top reserve before a foot injury wiped out his season. Haslem, who just rejoined the rotation a week ago, had 13 points (his first points since November) and 5 rebounds in 23 energetic minutes. His presence changed the tenor of the game, giving Miami another hard-nosed defender and jump shooter.
Wade called Haslem the player of the game. Spoelstra, who had been hesitant to play Haslem, praised him as “an absolute championship warrior.”
“He was huge out there,” James said. “That’s what we have missed all year. His energy, effort, scoring and toughness has been missing since November.”
Miami seized control with 71 seconds of stout defense and relentless energy late in the third quarter.
Haslem blocked Rose, then raced upcourt for a fast-break dunk and 3-point play. James stole a pass from Noah to spark another fast break and another 3-point play. Then James stripped Deng, leading to a fast-break layup by Wade. Haslem finished the run with another fast-break dunk, and the Heat had a 10-0 run and a 67-56 lead. Although the Bulls overcame that deficit, the tone for the rest of the game had been set.
“We made it too easy for them tonight,” Rose said. “They outhustled us throughout the whole game.”
LeBron James was polite but unenthusiastic in congratulating the Cleveland Cavaliers — his former team — on winning the top pick in the draft. “Good for them,“ he said. “I’m happy for the franchise, happy for the fans, but I got a lot more things to be worried about right now than the lottery.” Kyrie Irving, the Duke point guard, is widely considered the top prospect, and he got a strong endorsement from James, who has become friendly with Irving. But he cautioned fans not to view him as a franchise savior. “If it’s Kyrie, I don’t think you automatically place the franchise tag on him,” James said. “But I think he’s good enough where he’s going to continue to work hard and he could be that guy for that team.”