The Heat were no stranger to late deficits during their historic win streak, so it came as a surprise when LeBron James and company lost their composure in the late stages of Wednesday’s 101-97 road loss to the Bulls, ending their streak of 27 consecutive wins.
Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said his team had been living on the edge in terms of close games, and slow starts combined with second half heroics made for a dangerous recipe for his group, who overcame a 13-point second quarter deficit by three in the decisive fourth quarter.
"It became make or miss in the fourth quarter, and we couldn't get the necessary stops we needed to," Spoelstra said of his team's defense, which allowed the Bulls to shoot 10-of-22 in the final stanza. "The last handful of games those shots were going down and maybe masked a few things going down the stretch, but we’re capable of more."
In the last two weeks alone, Miami has trailed at Boston by 13 in the fourth quarter, by 27 in Cleveland, by 11 at home against the Pistons in the third quarter, by 10 in the first quarter to the Bobcats and by 10 early in Orlando. All those deficits were eventually erased, but that wasn't the case tonight against the physical and determined Bulls.
Chicago—playing without regulars Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli—came out firing in the first half, shooting better than 54 percent from the field and hitting 5-of-10 3-pointers by halftime to take a 55-46 lead. But as it has been for much of the Heat’s historic run, Erik Spoesltra’s group didn’t panic, regrouped and scored 13 of the first 16 points out of halftime to retake the lead, 61-60, with 4:28 to play.
But like the teams--27, to be exact--before them had failed to do, Tom Thibodeau's group hung step-for-step with the NBA's elite, and forced the usually level-headed and efficient Heat into frustration and poor decision-making. Miami has had its trouble on the glass this season, but its trademark lock-down defense in the fourth quarter was non-existent as the Bulls accumulated 10 second-chance points in the fourth quarter along. The most important of the 32 fourth quarter points came at the 7-minute mark, when the Bulls hit four straight field goal attempts (including three 3-pointers) to extend their lead from two to eight.
"They made big plays at the end and they deserved to win," Spoelstra said, "and that’s what usually happens in this league. Not all the time, but the team that competes harder, more focus, more commitment; usually the team that deserves to win, will win."
As talented as the Heat roster is, seemingly every bounce had gone their way during the win streak. The close calls the past week was bound to catch up with them, and against a "fiercely competitive," according to Spoelstra, team like the Bulls, the opponent isn't simply going to wilt away.
"You just gotta always keep it in perspective," Wade said. "The game is about one play that can go either way, and a lot of our games went that way. We had games similar to this one that just so happened to go our way. And tonight didn't."