LeBron James scored just two points in the opening half Monday yet still had the best night of Miami’s Big 3.
On this night, however, that wasn’t really saying much.
James led the Heat with 24 points Monday night, but his improved second-half stats belied an uneven performance in which the NBA’s Most Valuable Player couldn’t save the Heat from losing the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals 93-86 to the Bulls.
“We didn’t make the plays, didn’t make the shots,” Dwyane Wade said afterward.
Monday night went so badly for James and the Heat that James left the limited edition Nike sneakers he was debuting in the locker room after going 1 for 6 from the floor in the opening half.
For Michael Jordan, it was all about the shoes. Monday was all about the Bulls.
“We have to be better getting into our game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“This will be about who is going to impose their identity on the other team. Chicago imposed their identity in this first game. There is no doubt about that. We did not.”
Wade sat out Miami’s Game 4 win over Milwaukee in the opening round and led the Heat in the opening half by scoring eight points. Wade ended with 14 as he hit on just 3 of 10 shots in the final 24 minutes.
Chris Bosh had a few big moments but didn’t do a whole lot in scoring nine points with six rebounds.
James, honored by commissioner David Stern before the game for winning his second consecutive MVP award, scored seven points in the third and 15 in the fourth.
Yet James didn’t score a single point in the final 2:22 as the Bulls were able to slug their way to their second consecutive win. Chicago beat host Brooklyn in Game 7 of that opening series just two nights earlier.
“When you lose you have frustration, especially at home,” Wade said. “We had opportunities, we had our chances. You want to defy the odds and not come out sluggish, but we did.
“We pulled away a few times, but this team kept fighting back. If we could take some possessions back, we would. But we can’t.”
Even more of the spotlight was on James on Monday night. With a new sneaker, ad campaign and fourth MVP trophy in tow, James struggled in the opening half and scored two points with four rebounds.
James came out in the second half wearing a more muted version of his Nike LeBron X’s in the Miami Heat color scheme, leaving the kaleidoscope kicks complete with “MVP” on the tongue behind.
With one shot to open the third, James surpassed his entire point total for the first half as he drained a three-pointer to score Miami’s first points of the second half.
James scored seven points in the third quarter as he hit three of the four shots he took. James then opened the fourth with a sweet fadeaway jumper to give Miami a six-point lead.
James ended the fourth by missing his final two shots of the night as he closed his scoring by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 2:22 remaining.
Jimmy Butler played all 48 minutes — most of which was spent guarding James. Butler hit 9 of 10 free throws and ended with 21 points and 14 rebounds.