Boozer, Bulls shock defending-champion Heat

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Boozer, Bulls shock defending-champion Heat

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.