From the moment Jimmy Butler went airborne over Chris Bosh’s back, it was clear this game was different than the 27 that came before it.
Butler’s dunk in the third quarter was the lightning rod that the Chicago Bulls needed to do what no other team had done since the beginning of February, defeat the Heat. Done in by a 101-97 loss to the Bulls, the Heat’s winning streak ended at 27 victories. It was the second longest in NBA history.
After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra brought his team together and told them to “put a hand on each other. It was the first time I had mentioned the streak. It was a heck of an experience to have together. Its significance will mean much more later to us in our careers.”
Said Dwyane Wade: “I’m glad it’s over.”
The Heat was tied or trailed at halftime 14 times during the streak. It trailed again at the break in Chicago, but could not replicate that same magic it had conjured so many times before.
With the streak on life support with less than two minutes to play, the Bulls delivered a kill stroke in the form of four consecutive points by Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson.
Robinson’s driving layup gave the Bulls a 98-89 lead with 30.2 seconds left, and he bounded down the court in celebration as Spoelstra called a timeout. The United Center crowd continued its celebration.
LeBron James finished with 32 points, going 11 of 17 from the field, and Wade had 18 points in first game back since injuring his right knee. Wade missed a pair of games due to soreness and appeared to be in pain in the fourth quarter Wednesday.
“It’ll be a little sore, but it is what it is,” said Wade, who gave no indication that he would miss Friday’s game against New Orleans now that the streak is over.
The Bulls were without center Joakim Noah and guards Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton — not to mention Derrick Rose— but still squeezed enough out of its beleaguered lineup to cut short the Heat’s winning streak five games shy of the Lakers’ record of 33 in a row.
A rare display of frustration by James with less than four minutes to play all but doomed a comeback bid. James was hit with a technical foul when he sent an unnecessary elbow into Boozer, who was setting an offensive screen. Boozer made 1 of 2 free throws to give Chicago a 91-82 lead.
James noted after the game that his frustration was borne from a constant barrage of contact throughout the game that he characterized as nonbasketball plays.
“It’s frustrating,” James said.
Boozer had 21 points and 17 rebounds. His offensive rebound and putback with 57 seconds left was the exclamation point on a sensational night. Loul Deng had 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Bulls and Butler, who delivered that alley-oop dunk over Bosh in the third quarter, had 17 points, four rebounds and five assists.
That late three-pointer that James made so many times during the streak, he missed on Wednesday. The shot came with 2:45 left in the game and the Heat trailing by seven points. Miami still had a puncher’s chance, but James’ roundhouse missed the jaw.
Bosh pulled the down the offensive rebound but was outmuscled by Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, who ripped the ball out of Bosh’s arms. Bosh finished with 21 points and four rebounds.
A three-point play by Boozer with 1.1 seconds left in the third quarter put the Bulls ahead 69-68 entering the final period. The Bulls’ lead ballooned to six points to begin the fourth quarter. When James checked into the game with 9:04 left, the Heat trailed 75-69 and United Center was pulsing with the rhythm of an upset.
Chicago went ahead 80-73 on a driving, crashing layup by Hinrich, and Deng pushed the Bulls’ advantage to 83-75 with a three-pointer at the six-minute mark.
The Heat trailed by nine points to begin the second half but quickly cut into the Bulls’ lead with a pair of dunks by James. The first, and most spectacular of the game, was a one-handed jam on an alley-oop from Wade. On the Heat’s following possession, James finished a second fast break with another dunk — this time the Tomahawk variety.
Persistence by Bosh gave the Heat its first lead of the game. He pulled down consecutive offensive rebounds, preserving a possession, before Wade slapped an offensive rebound of his own to Shane Battier, who was wide open at the top of the key. Battier made his first three-pointer of the game to give the Heat its first lead, 59-58 with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
While the Bulls were without Noah, Chicago still had plenty of muscle and passion inside. Boozer established himself early, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the first half. Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Heat 18-12 to begin the game and led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter. The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 43-31 in the game.
James was the main protagonist for the Heat in the first half, scoring 18 points, but the Bulls built a 55-46 lead with an ensemble cast. Deng had 14 points in the first half and tiny Robinson was 5 of 7 from the field for 11 points.