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NBA playoffs: Bulls shut down Heat in Game 1 stunner
So by now, it’s obvious: If there’s a team in the NBA that has Miami’s number, it has to be the Bulls.
Nate Robinson scored 27 points and dominated in the final minutes — after needing 10 stitches to sew up his lip — while Jimmy Butler added 21 points and a career high-tying 14 rebounds as the Bulls pulled off a stunner by beating Miami 93-86 Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Actually, maybe it’s not that much of a stunner anymore. Since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all ignored overtures from the Bulls and decided to team up in Miami three years ago, Chicago has a 9-8 record against the Heat.
“I’ve played on some tough teams,” Robinson said. “But this one, there’s something a little different, something special about this group.”
It’s only one game, something plenty of Bulls players and coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out incessantly afterward. But even a 1-0 lead in a series typically leads to advancement, so for the Heat, adversity has arrived in a big way in a season where little has gone wrong.
“It’s not going to be pretty but playoffs are ugly,” said Bosh, who was held to nine points on 3-for-10 shooting. “That’s what it’s about. It’s been a little bit too pretty around here, to be honest with you.
“We’re in a situation where dudes are not going to be able to sleep and we’re going to have to give it our all in Game 2 and figure everything out.”
When it comes to facing Miami, the Bulls have plenty figured out.
They snapped Miami’s 27-game winning streak in the regular season — the second-longest in NBA history — and now toppled the champs again, this time ending a run of 12 straight Heat victories overall. Miami has lost five games at home this season, two to the Bulls, who held them to 89 on Jan. 4.
James struggled through a two-point first half before finishing with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Wade added 14 for the Heat, who had no one else in double figures, shot 40 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 46-32.
“I’m not stunned,” James said. “This is what the playoffs is all about. We’re going against a really good team.”
A seven-point deficit midway through the fourth wasn’t enough to doom the Bulls, who finished the game on a 10-0 run in the final 1:59. And to think, the Bulls weren’t anywhere near full strength. Kirk Hinrich was out again with a calf injury. Luol Deng isn’t even expected to rejoin the team until Tuesday, after dealing with an illness apparently so severe that a spinal tap — and other tests since — were needed to rule out things like meningitis.
“So proud of my team man, this bed might be good luck after all,” Deng wrote on Twitter after the game, with a photo of him in a hospital bed.
Oh, and Derrick Rose remains sidelined — as he’s been since April 2012.
“I think when you’re facing adversity, you have to be mentally tough,” Thibodeau said. “But this is just one game. We have to play a lot better in our next one.”
Miami was outscored 35-24 in the fourth, something that drew the ire of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra afterward.
“There’s no excuses,” said Spoelstra, whose team had not played in more than a week. “We’re not making any excuses for time off or anything else.”
And then not only did he play the whole second half, he scored 24 points in those 24 minutes, including the last seven points that finished the job for Chicago.
“He was born a scorer,” Miami guard Mario Chalmers said.
Joakim Noah scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Bulls, who also got 12 points from Taj Gibson and 10 from Marco Belinelli. Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.
“We’re not really a flashy team,” Gibson said. “We like to go out and do our job.”
A pair of three-point plays by James — one of them coming when he just broke through a tackle attempt by Butler and muscled the ball to the rim anyway — gave Miami a 76-69 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the biggest deficit Chicago faced all night.
The Bulls were undeterred.
Coming off a Game 7 road win in Brooklyn two nights earlier just to get into a series with Miami, the Bulls just kept grinding. When Ray Allen made a 3-pointer to give Miami an 80-78 lead, Butler came back with one of his own to put the Bulls back on top. When the Heat went up by three after James made a free throw with 2:22 left, Belinelli connected for a 3 — on a second-effort possession — to knot the game.
Wade missed a 3-pointer on the next possession, Robinson drove the lane and scored with 45.5 seconds left, and suddenly the Bulls were up 90-86. James drove against Butler and tried a 12-footer that missed everything, the Bulls got the rebound, Robinson made a free throw to stretch the lead to five and the stunner was complete.
Game 1 to the Bulls.
“It’s all about being tough,” said Butler, who played all 48 minutes for the third straight game. “We’re always going to be the underdogs and we take pride in that. Everybody can overlook us, but we feel like we’re good enough to hang with a lot of these teams.”
NOTES: James has played 885 regular-season and playoff games. He’s scored less than two points in a first half only twice, being shut out by Dallas on Oct. 31, 2007 and Dec. 20, 2010. He scored exactly two points on five other occasions before Monday. … Wade dove into the second row of seats to save an errant ball, and grimaced after appearing to hit his sore right knee. “I wish somebody would have grabbed me. That would have been kind of nice, especially at home,” Wade said. … The Bulls had 17 second-chance points on only nine offensive rebounds.
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