After a 22-4 run to open the game, the Miami Heat likely thought that they would cruise to a Game 5 victory and the resulting appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Chicago Bulls and head coach Tom Thibodeau had other ideas, and fought hard before eventually conceding by a score of 94-91.
The Bulls responded to the early burst from the Heat by going on a 34-14 run of their own, grabbing a 38-36 lead after a Jimmy Butler three-pointer, and Chicago held the lead for the duration of nearly two full quarters. With Miami trailing 53-47 at the half, they began the 3rd quarter with a Lebron James three that seemed to indicate a pending run, but Chicago held strong throughout the frame, even lengthening the lead to 10 with a Rip Hamilton basket that made it 73-63.
When the 4th quarter arrived, however, the Heat turned up the defensive intensity and with it, managed to grab a lead that they would never relinquish. Shane Battier keyed a 15-4 run with two threes and two free throws that gave Miami an 82-81 lead, and Miami continued to thrive (scoring on 7 consecutive trips) in pushing the lead to five. The Heat’s defense clamped down on the perimeter play of Chicago to the tune of just 14 fourth-quarter points, and it was clear that with the use of their trapping, aggressive style, Chicago had no answer when trying to create quality shots.
The game was very much in doubt until the final possession, but when three-point attempts by both Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler fell to the floor, the Heat held on for the three-point escape.
Miami was led by league MVP Lebron James, who overcame an uninspiring 5-14 shooting night to finish with 23 points (including 12 of 15 from the line), 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. He was joined by a clearly-limited Dwyane Wade (who finished with 18 points and 6 assists) to form the majority of the Miami scoring, but Wade’s biggest contribution came with 6 big points in the 4th quarter after going to the locker room for a reported re-taping of his injured knee.
On the Chicago side, it was a total team effort. Carlos Boozer had one of his best games of the season, scoring 26 points (on 10 for 19) and grabbing 14 rebounds while abusing his former Duke teammate Shane Battier, and causing Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh to pick up early foul trouble. Richard Hamilton emerged from the depths of Thibodeau’s dog house to contribute 15 unlikely points (mostly beating up on Ray Allen), and Nate Robinson added 21 points on just 15 field-goal attempts. Lastly, Jimmy Butler did a fairly incredible job on Lebron James throughout the night, and while he went cold offensively (missing his last 7 shots), Butler added 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in the finale of his “breakout” series.
It was a tremendously gutty effort from a Chicago team that could have simply rolled over after digging a giant, 22-4 hole to begin the game. Instead, they fought valiantly against a much, much more talented Heat roster, and took the defending champions to the brink (in the American Airlines Center, no less) before graciously exiting the playoffs.
As for Miami, they advance to face the winner of the Knicks/Pacers series (which Indy currently leads 3-1), and the Heat have lost only 2 games with Lebron James in the lineup in the entire 2nd-half of the season. They are certainly the favorites to repeat as champs, but it is worth noting that a) Dwyane Wade is certainly not full-strength, and b) the Heat visibly struggled at times with an energetic, but undermanned Bulls team. In the end, however, the Miami Heat have Lebron James, and no other squad can lay claim to that notion. Miami fans can take solace in the King.