For the first 44 and a half minutes of the Miami Heat’s 83-80 victory on Thursday night, the Chicago Bulls got the exact game they wanted.
LeBron James was bottled up after missing some tough jumpers early, with free throws being his only real source of offense. Dwyane Wade’s struggles continued, and he committed nine turnovers while failing to get a shot to fall or a pass to go through traffic. Chris Bosh had a strong game, especially for a third option, but it wasn’t enough.
The Bulls dominated the glass, and they made the game ugly. They beat the Heat to 50-50 balls, they finally got a few outside shots to fall, and they forced turnovers and created unforced errors. They made Miami miserable, and with three and half minutes remaining it looked like the series was heading back to Miami for a Game 6.
Then the LeBron James that took over the 2007 Eastern Conference finals and the Dwyane Wade that took over the 2006 NBA finals decided to show up — at the same time. With 3:53 remaining in the game, Miami took a timeout after Ronnie Brewer made what looked like a dagger 3-pointer to put the Bulls up by 12.
After the timeout, LeBron got fouled and split a pair of free throws. Then Wade made a short jumper, stole a pass, and got a quick layup in transition. After a missed jumper by Taj Gibson, LeBron drilled a three to cut the Bulls’ lead to five, and Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau immediately called a timeout.
After the timeout, Derrick Rose hit a beautiful, spinning floater over LeBron, and the Bulls’ lead looked safe once again. Then Wade made his first three-point basket since May 7 — while getting fouled. Wade made the free throw, Rose missed a floater, and LeBron calmly pulled up in semi-transition to make a game-tying three with a minute to go. After that, LeBron stole a pass and hit a pull-up jump shot to put the Heat up by two. Rose had a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws, but he missed the second, and Bosh was able to seal the game for the Heat with two clutch free throws in a must-foul situation for the Bulls.
Now the Heat are going to the NBA finals, and they look fairly terrifying. They refused to have their wills broken by the team that accumulated the NBA’s best record by breaking wills. LeBron and Wade look unstoppable in crunch time. The team’s defense has been suffocating, and nobody can doubt how much offensive talent Miami has. The Heat will have to score more than they have in their last two series to win a championship, but the Mavericks’ defense won’t give them nearly as much trouble as the Celtics or Bulls.
The Heat were made. The Heat were criticized. The Heat had an up-and-down regular season. The Heat won the Eastern Conference in a total of 15 games. Now we get to see if the story of the Miami Heat, which has been one of the most intriguing of the NBA season, will end with a championship parade.