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.