The game was over for an hour when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh gathered around the television in the visitors’ locker room. “Damn,” marveled LeBron as TNT flashed a shot of a crowd in Miami in utter pandemonium.
“They goin’ crazy,” Wade said as Bosh smiled and nodded after leading the most scintillating comeback any of them could remember. Eighteen points by three players in 3 minutes 14 seconds. One four-point play. Two three-pointers. “Damn,” LeBron said again.
The bump-and-grind of this grueling, physical and often painful-to-watch series, all the bodies banging in the key, all the forearms to the head and elbows to the neck, had not taken their toll on James and Wade like the 23,057 standing at United Center wanted.
Not brutish Carlos Boozer, not all the Bulls’ bruising bodies in the world could stop the game’s most breathtaking trio from doling out something more painful — like, siphoning hope from another visiting arena, cruelly ending another contender’s season with a gut-punch of a finish.
They’re ready already? They’re ready.
As epic an NBA comeback as they come, a rally that thrust a team that didn’t even have jerseys yet made up for James and Chris Bosh a year ago to their first NBA Finals since 2006.
Heatles 83, Bulls and Their Crestfallen City, 80.
Miami, four games to one over Chicago. Oh, we could go on to tell you how Derrick Rose, Mr. MVP, missed a free throw that could have tied it with 26.7 seconds left. Or that LeBron hit crucial jumpers and monster free throws to give the Heat the lead in the final minutes, and that Wade was uncanny, completing a four-point play to bring Miami within three at the end.
We could show you Bosh’s two free throws to nearly ice it, and all the resolve it took to come from behind down double-digits in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Chicago’s meltdown mirrored Oklahoma City’s in games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference finals against Dallas, and Rose and his teammates should be taken to task for not closing the door and sending the series back to Miami for Game 6.
But this isn’t about what the Bulls didn’t do, because frankly they did everything they could to thwart a team that just wouldn’t go away at the end of each tight game in the series.
They’re ready already? They’re ready.
I’m becoming less convinced Miami is a year away, that this was the season to get the Heat before it truly melded into a cohesive bunch of champions. The Heat has yet to lose a game in the playoffs on its home court, which it has beginning Tuesday against Dallas.
I still like the Mavericks’ experience with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd — and all their good back stories of players and coaches who suffered rejection before in the Finals. But the deeper they go in the playoffs, LeBron and Wade and Bosh are beginning to synchronize beautifully. Even during its eyesore moments on offense, the Heat ultimately feels like a train rumbling forward, its momentum plowing through everything in front of them.
When all is said and done, LeBron needs to thank Chicago for getting he and his teammates ready. Almost reminiscent of how the Pistons annually beat up Michael Jordan till he was ready to be a champion, these Bulls were so rugged and relentless, beating up Miami as best they could.
In between a few bursts of ballet and genuine basketball artistry, Miami and Chicago traded overhand rights for almost two weeks in a series less about the most dynamic offensive players in the game and more a roughneck reprisal of Knicks-Heat, Pistons-Bulls, Pistons-Anybody, circa ’80s and ’90s playoffs.
LeBron could think run and dunk all he wanted, but it doesn’t matter when Boozer wanted to brawl.
With 2:24 left in the third quarter of Game 5, that’s just what happened.
James rose toward the rim and Boozer took him out with a malicious flourish across the face, a hard foul that Boozer dumbly made flagrant. Three more foul calls later – Miami inexplicably was awarded seven free throws in a span of 39 seconds to climb back in a game the Bulls were on the verge of cruising in — and United Center heaped anger, derision and profanity on the officials.
Anyone more interested in choreography than chaos can’t be happy with Bulls-Heat’s aesthetic quality. There were more forearms to the neck than breathtaking drives toward the rim. This series was advertised as the MVP from Chicago and his gritty role players vs. South Beach’s constellation of stars.
But if you’re NBA Commissioner David Stern or among the fan base that believes a transcendent team makes for better theater, this series was worth the scrum and sacrifice.
With apologies to the Lake Show of Kobe and Shaq, the most compelling, must-see group of players since Michael’s Bulls are headed to the NBA Finals in their maiden season together. They got there because they went through a gantlet in Chicago, one that made James, Wade and Bosh stronger and more resistant to derisive chants and borderline-dirty fouls than they have ever been.
Now the relative upstarts get their final test from the oldest, experienced team left in the postseason.
Eighteen points in three minutes, a comeback that was as breathless as it was bullish and determined.
They’re already ready? They’re ready.