MIAMI No Derrick Rose, no problem.
If the Heat (22-9) didnt learn last season that the Bulls (18-13) didnt fear them without their franchise player in the lineup, they certainly learned Friday night, as the Bulls trademark blend of defense and role players rising to the occasion not to mention Carlos Boozer having his best game against Miami, where he resides in the offseason, in a Bulls uniform helped them hold off the defending champions, 96-89, at American Airlines Arena.
A quick start by Boozer (27 points, 12 rebounds) and the Bulls quieted the raucous home crowd, as scrappy defense, timely plays and selfless offense combated the hosts firepower to take an early lead.
Reigning MVP LeBron James (30 points, six rebounds) came out of the gates aggressively, however, ensuring that things didnt get out of hand, though a timeout to halt the visitors momentum was utilized by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Miami subsequently got its transition game going and with a 9-0 run, mainly propelled by All-Star Dwyane Wade (22 points), the tables were quickly turned, as the Heats up-tempo approach led to easy scoring opportunities.
The Bulls didnt wilt, however, and with Taj Gibson (nine rebounds) coming off the bench to give them a lift, they ended the opening period on a 10-0 run to hold a 26-22 advantage after a quarter of play, following a putback layup by Boozer, who continued to produce through the entire frame, just before the buzzer.
The hosts quickly regained control of the game in the second quarter, as Chris Bosh (14 points), complemented by the Heats deep bench while Ray Allen is headlining, reserve, second-year point guard Norris Cole made more of an impact went to work. Although Boozer was reinserted into the contest and immediately continued doing damage, Miami built a slim cushion.
But the Bulls gradually cut into the deficit as the period waned on, getting contributions from energetic reserves Nate Robinson (13 points) and Jimmy Butler (eight points, five rebounds) fearless scoring from the former, while the latters defensive versatility and athleticism matched up well with the Heats small-ball lineup; Butler sacrificed his offense to focus on guarding fellow Marquette product Wade, as All-Star Luol Deng against James and quietly chipped away at the hosts.
At the intermission, following a last-second shot by Butler, the Bulls led, 49-48, much to the dismay of the home crowd.
After the break, Boozer and Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds) who took a while to get going after missing Wednesdays win in Orlando with flu-like symptoms helped the Bulls maintain their edge, via their strong interior play. They got help from the veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (10 points, eight assists) and Rip Hamilton, which provided the visitors, with a lift after a mostly dormant first half.
The Bulls acquired some breathing room as the third quarter went on and while James brought the house down after a fast break alley-oop from Wade with 3:29 left in the period, the Bulls soldiered on, even flirting with extending their lead to double digits. Behind the continued solid play of the inside tandem of Noah and Boozer, the visitors headed into the final stanza ahead, 75-66.
Early in the fourth quarter, what appeared to be a potential turning point in the game occurred when Noah, already seen as a villain in Miami and a host of other NBA cities aside from Chicago, collared James around the neck without malice and he helped him up and after an official review, was called for a flagrant foul with 10:16 remaining.
James scored nine straight Heat points to bring Miami to within three, but Robinson responded with a terrific individual sequence a tough floater on one end, then an amazing athletic display for a steal on defense, followed by drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Bulls some separation.
Robinsons exploits continued, as he and Boozer hit the deck in pursuit of loose balls, followed by another solo run by the diminutive scorer he took a charge on Ray Allen on defense, then knocked down a triple prompting a Heat timeout, as the Bulls built a double-digit lead.
As the game headed into the stretch run, timely plays on the defensive end by the likes of Butler, as well as clutch foul shooting, allowed the Bulls to hold off their hosts, who simply couldnt buy a bucket late. And while an Allen three-pointer with 1:44 remaining made it a 91-85 game, in the visitors favor, followed by James drawing a clear-path foul on Hinrich though he split the pair of free throws and the Heat couldnt capitalize on the subsequent possession a Boozer layup after a Butler offensive rebound salted the game away in the final minute, promoting the Heat loyalists to head for the exits early.