Three-Pointers: Fearless Bulls deliver Heat’s first loss of playoffs
The Bulls defeated the Heat 93-86 in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinals series on Monday night.
• Against all odds. Over the last three months, Miami has now lost to Chicago twice as many times (2) as it has to anyone else in the NBA combined (1). The first loss snapped the Heat’s ridiculous 27-game winning streak, ending a run at history, but Monday’s loss was every bit as shocking, and perhaps more so. Miami held every meaningful circumstantial advantage — home court, rest, health, overall talent — and yet collapsed in the game’s final two minutes to lose for the first time in more than a month.
How did this happen when Miami had eight days between games after a sweep and Chicago finished off a Game 7 on Saturday? How did this happen without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich? How did this happen in Miami, where the Heat lost just four times all season? How did this happen with a Miami team led by LeBron James, who has seemed as close to invulnerable as an NBA player has been in years?
“Nobody had us winning any games,” Bulls guard Nate Robinson said after Game 1. “I heard we were getting swept.”
The undermanned Bulls operate and succeed in such a collective manner — five players in double figures, plus-14 as a team on the glass — that prioritizing the credit can sometimes be a difficult process. But Game 1 featured superb performances from both Robinson (27 points, three rebounds, nine assists) and Jimmy Butler (21 points, 14 rebounds, three assists), who together outscored, outrebounded and outassisted the Heat’s All-Star duo of James (24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) and Dwyane Wade (14 points, two rebounds, four assists). Not bad for a minimum-salary pipsqueak and the last guy taken in the first round of the 2011 draft.
We casually toss around the “superhuman” tag with James, but Butler was right there with him in outer space when it came to tirelessness, focus and competitiveness. Play after play, Butler shadowed James defensively, fighting through picks, absorbing contact, avoiding foul trouble, encouraging and contesting jumpers and generally making life uncomfortable for the 2013 MVP, who rarely looks uncomfortable. It was all the more remarkable considering Butler has now played in all 48 minutes in each of Chicago’s last three games.
“There’s no really stopping him,” Butler said in a televised press conference after the game. “It’s all about containment. We tried to make everything tough for him.”
James picked up the pieces after a rough start (he shot just 1-for-6 in the first half) to score 12 of Miami’s first 14 points in the fourth quarter, but he didn’t make a field goal in the game’s final six minutes, as the Heat blew a seven-point lead.
“Jimmy is going to work the whole time,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought there were plays that Jimmy defended as well as you can and LeBron still has the ability to make.”
In the game’s final sequences, the Heat caved mentally before the Bulls did, as Wade rushed and missed a three-pointer on one key possession and James airballed a jumper on the next. On the other end, Robinson was busy scoring the game’s final seven points, a testament to his own indefatigability, given he played 40 minutes and would have played more if not for a blow to his mouth (more below).
The duo agreed afterward that Miami’s supposed invincibility brings out the Bulls’ best attributes, namely their fearlessness and aggressiveness.
“We’re always going to be the underdogs,” Butler said. “We take pride in that.”
Robinson added: “We just give them our all.”
• Bloodied. With a little more than four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Robinson and James both went diving after a loose ball, with James landing on Robinson’s head. Here’s a look at the play via YouTube user NBAClip.
The Bulls’ guard, who was forced to the locker room with blood coming from his mouth, told reporters that he received 10 stitches before he returned for the second half.
“[My teammates] expect you to get stitched up and come back out there,” Robinson said. “And that’s what I did.”
He went on to score 11 fourth-quarter points to bring home the upset.
• Spectacular, even on a forgettable night. Remember that annoying “My better is better than your better” Nike campaign? James’ Game 1 was a reminder that his bad/worst is still better than just about everyone’s better/best. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra came out hard with a “no excuses” tone to his postgame news conference, fully aware of how difficult the Bulls make life for his team but also certain that James is unlikely to look as out of sorts as he did through much of this game as the series progresses.
But even on a night where he started slowly and ended with the airball, James finished with big numbers and at least two jaw-dropping moments.
Early in the fourth quarter, James rose high to throw down a dunk despite a shove from Joakim Noah. Video via YouTube user Patrick Gonzalez.
Then, a few minutes later, he broke out in transition for an unbelievable banked-in finish with his left hand on the move after taking a wrap-up blow from Butler. The combination of skills and instincts it takes to finish such a play so effortlessly is just silly.