Basketball fans might have been stunned by this result, but the Bulls say you shouldn’t be.
“We’ve got will, we’ve got heart, and we show it every night,” forward Taj Gibson said after Chicago’s 93-86 Game 1 win against the Heat, handing Miami only its third loss in 44 games, with two of those against Chicago.
“Nobody gives us a chance and still don’t. We don’t care what the outside world thinks.”
Or, as Bulls center Joakim Noah said, “People who watch from the couch doesn’t mean much to me. Nobody believed we would be in this position.”
No team had been better in the clutch this season than Miami. But the Bulls snatched this game late by closing with a 10-0 run.
The decisive run began, appropriately, with a Noah offensive rebound off a Marco Belinelli missed three-pointer. Noah passed the ball back to Belinelli, whose three tied the score at 86 with 1:59 left.
Nate Robinson’s jumper in Mario Chalmers’ face pushed Chicago ahead 88-86 with 1:16 left. Then, after Dwyane Wade missed an ill-advised pull-up three, Robinson beat Ray Allen off the dribble for a driving layup to put the Bulls ahead 90-86.
Robinson hit three free throws down the stretch, sending Heat fans home in stunned silence.
“Nate, to be that small [5-9], to do the things he does gives us a lot of confidence,” Noah said. “He’s a hell of a scorer, and we need that.”
The Bulls, who outrebounded the Heat by 42 in their four regular-season meetings, closed with a 46-32 margin on the boards, with Jimmy Butler grabbing 14 and Noah 11.
“It’s all about being tough,” Butler said. “Rebounding is the key to this game.”
Butler, filling in for Luol Deng, also had 21 points and played terrific defense against LeBron James.
“We tried to make everything tough for him,” said Butler, who played all 48 minutes for the third consecutive game. “We’ve got to try to stay in front of him and make him pass.”
Robinson kept Chicago afloat offensively with 24 points in the second half on 7-for-11 shooting: 13 in the third quarter, 11 in the fourth. And he did it despite needing 10 stitches on an upper lip laceration sustained in the second quarter.
Belinelli opened 1 for 5 but hit two key threes in the fourth quarter.
Gibson scored six points in the fourth and made his presence felt defensively.
The Bulls’ defense pestered and harassed the Heat, and Miami helped by missing some shots it often makes, with the Heat closing at 39.7 percent from the field.
And remarkably, Chicago did it despite playing without their top two scorers — Derrick Rose, who has missed the entire season to this point while recovering from knee surgery, and Deng, who was back in Chicago after having a negative reaction to a spinal tap. Point guard Kirk Hinrich, a capable ball-handler, sat out with a bruised calf.
The Bulls also did it despite a woeful shooting night from Carlos Boozer, who shot 3 for 11 and was kept on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
The Bulls had 15 turnovers through three quarters but had only one in the fourth.
“There’s something special about this group,” Robinson said. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for 10 years. We love to play for each other.”