CHICAGO — For three days, the Miami Heat had to hear about how it couldn’t keep up with the deeper and more physical Chicago Bulls, and how Coach Tom Thibodeau has been so successful at finding schemes to contain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Heat players let their lopsided loss in the series opener fester and the humiliation couldn’t even escape their homes.
Wade also had to repeatedly watch replays of Bulls reserve Taj Gibson’s two-handed dunk over him, an embarrassing moment that was only amplified when Wade said that he was playing in his suburban Chicago home with his oldest son, Zaire, who dunked on a Nerf hoop and shouted, “Gibson!”
But the Heat was confident that the Eastern Conference finals weren’t going to be won by one commanding performance, and it left United Center with an 85-75 victory. James and Wade combined to outscore the Bulls 12-2 in the final 4 minutes 33 seconds, as Miami evened this best-of-seven series at 1-1. Game 3 is Sunday in Miami, where the Heat has yet to lose this postseason.
“We had a lot of time to hear about how terrible we was,” Wade said after scoring 24 points. “Of course, as competitors, we’re fueled by that. We said two things before we went out on the court, it was, ‘Must win.’ We needed to win this game if we had any chance of winning this series.”
James had yet another clutch performance this postseason, overcoming a head cold to score a game-high 29 points and make the decisive three-pointer over Bulls forward Luol Deng which broke a 73-all tie. But James wouldn’t have been in position to finish off the Bulls if not for the unexpected production of Heat co-captain and spiritual leader Udonis Haslem, who scored 13 points and added five rebounds in his most extended playing time since returning from a right foot injury that sidelined him for much of the season — including Miami’s three regular-season losses to Chicago.
Coach Erik Spoelstra had spoken to Haslem about using him more, but only went to him out of desperation, after centers Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire were ineffective and in foul trouble. “He’s an absolute championship warrior,” Spoelstra said of Haslem, who had played a combined seven minutes in his previous two postseason appearances. “He hasn’t been really in a game and now I question myself for not trying him earlier. Some guys you can’t define what’s inside them. He was able to really give us a boost.”
League most valuable player Derrick Rose scored 21 points but he struggled mightily trying to crack through the Heat defense, as he missed 16 of 23 attempts. Rose was able to score 28 points in Game 1 by knocking down perimeter shots, but he stubbornly tried to attack the basket Wednesday and failed to convert.
Each Rose miss proved to be deflating for him and his teammates, who also struggled from the floor. Deng was the only other Bull to score in double figures, as he scored 13 points, with just four coming after the first quarter. Miami held the Chicago to just 34.1 percent shooting and the Bulls didn’t help themselves, as they missed 10 of 26 free throws.
“I missed a lot of layups, shots that I normally hit,” Rose said. “But if anything, I think we lost this game because our intensity and defense. We can’t afford to go out there and play like this. I know that.”
The Heat also beat the Bulls in rebounding, 45-41, after losing that battle by 12 in the opener. That 23-point romp on Sunday proved to be an aberration for these evenly matched teams, especially since the Bulls had won the first three games of the regular season by a combined eight points.
The Bulls succeeded in stifling James and Wade in Game 1, forcing the duo into difficult shots and limiting the two stars to a combined 33 points. James and Wade combined for 33 in the first half on Wednesday, when the Heat entered the locker room leading 48-46. Miami had been outscored 99-62 in the third quarter in the first four games this season, but Haslem helped them win the period, 23-19, by scoring 11 points and helping the Heat build an 11-point lead.
Haslem got a bounce pass from Mike Bibby and got fouled as he dunked over Keith Bogans. He added another fast-break dunk and two jumpers, raising his right hand high above his head as he ran down the court.
“It’s been a long road,” said Haslem, who missed 77 games before returning in Game 4 against Boston in the previous series. “My teammates have been patient with me. I just thank the Man above I was able to come back and contribute to a win.”
The Bulls rallied to tie the score at 73 when when Rose found Gibson cutting to the basket for a dunk with 7:16 left in the game. Both teams failed to score until James made his three-pointer, and he followed with another jumper over the much shorter Rose after Deng switched to guard Wade.
“The shot was there, so I took it,” James said. “There wasn’t much offense out there but when we play defense like this, we’re tough to beat. Series is 1-1 now. We’re excited to get one here which is what we had to do.”