Considering the tenor of the rivalry over the past four seasons, Sunday afternoon’s result couldn’t really be considered a surprise, as the Bulls (35-28) demonstrated the resilience they’re renowned for in marching back from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit and seizing on the momentum to mount a dominant overtime to beat the defending-champion Heat (43-17), 95-88, at the United Center.
Chicago native Dwyane Wade (25 points) got off to a quick start for the Heat, but was countered by the intense approach of All-Star counterpart Joakim Noah (20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five blocked shots). The center, who decried the Bulls’ lack of fire during last month’s loss in Miami, made his usual energy plays and also took the initiative to be a scoring threat in the early going.
Veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich (11 points, four assists) also provided a spark and while the Bulls allowed the Heat to get into transition, they also forced their share of turnovers in the fast-paced, close-knit affair. Carlos Boozer emerged as another contributor and rookie swingman Tony Snell was a solid performer off the bench — starter Mike Dunleavy Jr. picked up two early fouls — to help the Bulls earn a 21-19 lead after the opening period.
The contest remained tight in the second quarter, with Wade continuing to be a focal point for the visitors, but reserve Norris Cole also making his presence felt. The Bulls’ own backup point guard, D.J. Augustin (22 points), made an impact as a scorer and helped build a cushion to gain some separation from the Heat midway through the frame. Noah came back into the game and through his defense and trademark energy, got the hometown crowd involved.
But Miami stormed back, with LeBron James (17 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) heavily involved — from a thunderous alley-oop dunk over Augustin on a fast break to a scrum with Jimmy Butler (16 points, 11 rebounds) under the basket, resulting in double technical fouls being assessed and feet to the faces of both players — to take the lead. Heat role players like point guard Mario Chalmers and backup center Chris “Birdman” Andersen (13 rebounds, six blocks) played a major part in the surge, a 15-1 run that put the Bulls at a 43-37 halftime disadvantage, following a Noah running hook shot with 2.7 seconds before the intermission.
After the break, the Heat maintained an edge, though the Bulls challenged their guests behind the play of Noah, Hinrich and Butler, who came alive offensively after a scoreless, 0-for-6 first half. The contest remained chippy and contentious, but James, who had experienced a quiet scoring effort for most of the afternoon, started to get in rhythm late in the third quarter, and the Bulls faced a 67-59 deficit heading into the final stanza.
Sixth man Taj Gibson (seven points, 10 rebounds), who had been scoreless in the first three frames after entering the day having scored double figures in 14 consecutive games, was a force early in the fourth quarter, helping the Bulls trim the gap to a two-possession game. An Augustin triple made it one-point affair, 74-73, and after getting fouled by fellow Marquette product Wade on an attempted fast-break dunk, Butler put the Bulls ahead on a pair of free throws midway through the period, completing a 13-0 run to take the lead, resulting in a Heat timeout.
Unsurprisingly, breathing room was hard to come by heading into the contest’s stretch run and after All-Star big man Chris Bosh (15 points) drained a three-pointer to give Miami an 82-80 lead with 3:18 left, following a Bulls timeout, Noah tied the game on a left-handed jump hook. After an extended video review to confirm Noah’s basket indeed beat the shot-clock buzzer, Gibson threw down a monstrous dunk over in Chalmers in transition — plus the foul, though he didn’t convert the three-point play — to thrill the partisan audience and give the Bulls an 84-82 advantage.
James, however, would knot up the contest with a driving layup at 1:10 mark, leading to a Bulls timeout, a turnover and Wade drawing a questionable foul with 29.2 seconds on the clock, then draining both foul shots. Out of a timeout, Hinrich lofted up a soaring left-handed finger roll with 20.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 86 apiece.
That set up James to for a potential game-winner, but isolated with Butler, the league MVP was stripped on a drive to the rim and time ran out in regulation.
A huge Gibson offensive rebound led to an Augustin triple, the first points of an extra session that promised to be light on scoring. Butler followed suit, snatching a Bulls miss, then knocking down a shot over the smaller Chalmers in the post, creating a cushion.
Noah joined the club with a putback on one end, then blocking a shot on the subsequent Heat possession, which led to Butler getting fouled in transition by Wade and knocking down two shots from the charity stripe. Miami eventually got on the board, breaking the Bulls’ 9-0 run with a James layup, but it was too little, too late.