Miami Heat's James holds his face after a play as Chicago Bulls' Boozer looks on, during their NBA basketball game in Chicago

Bulls put an end to Heat’s 27-game winning streak

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The Heat weren’t expecting to see their 27-game winning streak snapped in Chicago on Wednesday, due to the Bulls being shorthanded and playing without Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton, and Marco Belinelli due to injury.

But that’s the thing about winning streaks, and it’s also the reason that the NBA record of 33 straight wins set by the Lakers way back in the 1971-72 season still stands — they come to an end when you least expect it.

The Bulls beat the Heat 101-97, which gave Miami its first loss since February 1, and snapped the second-longest winning streak in NBA history in the process.

The streak wasn’t going to go on forever. It just seemed like the version of the Bulls that took the floor on Wednesday wouldn’t have the necessary firepower to stop it.

Chicago jumped out to a 13-2 lead to start the game, which had Miami playing catch-up from essentially the opening tip. That wasn’t necessarily that big of an issue for this Heat team, considering the multiple times they’ve come back from double-digit deficits during this streak to come back and win games, and win them convincingly.

Against the Bulls, however, it posed a problem.

When the Heat took the lead (as expected) late in the third quarter, behind an increased defensive intensity that held the Bulls to just 14 points in the period on 31.6 percent shooting while forcing six turnovers, Chicago didn’t fold like so many other opponents of Miami’s have in the past.

The Bulls responded and battled, and seemed to want it more than Miami as the game headed down the stretch.

The key run from Chicago came with just over seven and a half minutes to play in the fourth, with the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead. Two three-pointers from Luol Deng, with a runner in the lane from Kirk Hinrich in between, pushed the Bulls lead to eight with just over six minutes to play. That sequence was followed by an and-1 from Dwyane Wade, but Jimmy Butler answered with another three for Chicago to send the advantage back to eight with under five and a half remaining.

The best way to describe the rest of the game from that point was the Bulls finding a way, possession after possession, to withstand the Heat’s best shot.

LeBron James was called for a flagrant foul for lowering a shoulder into the chest of Carlos Boozer who was setting a screen on the perimeter with under four minutes to play — a questionable call in terms of it being ruled a flagrant, but a clear sign that James was experiencing frustration nonetheless.

Miami couldn’t put together a late run thanks to the defensive identity of the Bulls that was on display in the flesh in the final few minutes, and Nate Robinson, somewhat fittingly, got into the lane for a layup with 30 seconds left that pushed the Bulls lead to nine and put the game officially out of reach.

James finished with a stellar statistical line of 32 points on 11-17 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and four blocked shots. Wade had 18 points and Chris Bosh finished with 21, but no other player from Miami was able to crack double figures.

Deng played like the All-Star he’s been for the past two seasons in this one, especially in the fourth quarter, where he finished with 12 of his team-high 28 points. Boozer was more than solid with 21 points and 17 rebounds, and Hinrich’s feisty and fearless effort defending James at times helped set the tone from an energy standpoint for his undermanned Bulls team.

The streak had to end at some point, and it’s worth noting that having it happen now, with 11 games left in the regular season, is probably just fine with the Heat.

Remember, the Spurs entered the playoffs a season ago riding a 10-game winning streak, and ran it to 20 through the first three rounds of the postseason. But once it finally ended, they lost four straight and were eliminated from title contention.

Gregg Popovich wouldn’t want to go through that again, and Bosh has already said that winning another championship would be much more meaningful than breaking the all-time record for consecutive wins could ever be.

Those are the silver linings the Heat will find as they reflect on the streak coming to an end in Chicago. It was an impressive run that will be remembered, but Miami’s hopes are that it will be a mere footnote to a season that ends in nothing short of a second straight NBA title.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.