Well, they did it.
'They' has been a fluid term all season, and in this instance the Bulls were facing some of their longest odds. After learning that everyone who was questionable for this Miami game was indeed out, even noted Heat-beating enthusiast , one wouldn't be wrong to assume that the Bulls would just be another team (for the second time) as a footnote to Miami's run to history.
But the guys remaining all had their moments, some with amazing overall performances, and everyone put in the effort required to stop this historic runaway train that was the LeBron-led Heat. It was truly the cliched 48-minutes of ThibsBall, and it did enough to keep the Heat from getting the easier points they were accustomed to. This came in two varieties, both hard fouls on the inside and resilient transition defense. In both cases, what other (or as Jeff Van Gundy said in the broadcast, 'lesser') teams might give up the Bulls wouldn't. LeBron doesn't float as much to the perimeter as he used to, but he still paid a price whenever attempting FGs inside. Luol Deng took the majority of the assignment, but contributions from Jimmy Butler as well as some hard fouls from Hinrich and Gibson at least kept LeBron from going completely supernova. I mean, he still had 32 points on 17 shots and all, but every deterrent helped on the overall message that nothing was going to be easy. And whether LeBron was slowed much or not, he was certainly frustrated: committing a rare flagrant foul (or for him: rare foul) at a crucial 4th quarter possession when he took a cheap shot at Boozer after feeling he deserved a similar call on the other end. I think LeBron did have a case for some other personal foul calls on the night (and he has a point on the 1st quarter Hinrich tackle, but there's precedent for allowing that as a non-flagrant) but to me those two reviewed flagrants were called correctly. And then with the transition defense, there were at least a half-dozen plays that the Heat would usually get layups from that the Bulls challenged.
It wasn't always a successful challenge, but the point is these things add up. You need some points around the margins to pull off this kind of upset, and the Bulls got them offensively as well. The Bulls had several buzzer-beaters on the night, both at the end of the shot clock as well as the end of the quarter. For a team that struggles to score, these are huge.
As was opening the game up 5-10 from three, helping propel the Bulls to a 13-2 run to start the game and winding up nine points at halftime. The Heat were having major turnover problems in that first half, with 5 in that first stretch (they finished with only 13).
The 3rd quarter started out ominously, as there were two classic Heat plays (turnover to LeBron alley-oop) followed by the Bulls scoring only 3 points in the first 7:30 of the half and Miami reclaiming the lead. It's not like the Heat hadn't fallen down early in this streak before, and so far they've always come back.
But then this Jimmy Butler play happened (even sweeter because LeBron wasn't going back on defense). And Boozer had an and-one to nearly beat the buzzer in the 3rd quarter. The Bulls righted the ship and refused to let this get away from them. They followed that up with a spectacular and exciting 4th quarter seeing them consistently build their lead: Up 6 with 6:00 left, up 8 with 7:00 left, up 9 with 4:00 to go...and it wasn't a case where the Heat were falling apart: they were desperately trying to make plays (and made a ton of them!) to keep their streak alive, but the Bulls wound up scoring 32 points in the 4th quarter, something unfathomable considering the two sides on the court in this game. But it was that kind of night for the Bulls.
As far as individual performances, everyone gets a game ball! Some get two!
- Luol Deng had one of his best games of the season and one of the more memorable ones in a career where he's had to face LeBron. Picking up his shooting lately after a long (very long) drought, Deng was 4-8 from three on his way to 28 points. His back-to-back threes early in the 4th quarter were a huge turnaround from where the Bulls offense was headed, and playing in 44 minutes did little to slow him down as the game reached the end.
- Jimmy Butler may have had the 1A performance on the wing. He had similar struggles at times with Dwayne Wade as Deng did with James, but over limited Wade (coming off a 2-game absence due to knee issues) to a modest game, and the point with both he and Deng was that they made the opposing superstars work for their points. Butler also continued his red-hot three-point shooting going 2-4 tonight, and had another super-efficient big-minute (43) game at the SG position getting 17 points on 10 shots. And the highlight of the night.
- Carlos Boozer put up huge stats in a 21 point, 17 rebound performance. He may not have dominated the Heat small-ball as much as the matchups would've suggested he should, and made a bunch of dumb Boozer plays, but that's a contribution the team desperately needed. He edged Chris Bosh yet again, who had a similar line but missed so many wide-open 20-footers (again, these things add up in an upset) you have to lean towards Booz overall. Boozer also had a huge offensive rebound and putback in the final minutes to stave off the Heat's final assault for good.
- A classic Kirk Hinrich game. Or for the new (as in old) version of Hinrich. Poor shooting, good floor game, and several grit points with an announcer-slobbering multiplier of 10x. Hinrich took a couple hard fouls on LeBron breakaways that earned him a nasty bump on the head and a standing ovation, and near the end had a huge steal of Chris Bosh where he literally ripped the ball from his weak Bostrich arms. He also airballed a three-pointer by a foot and half, but we'll blame the possible concussion (this time...)
- Nate Robinson didn't have the gigantic night that you'd think would be required to beat Miami, as he ceded the PG duties to Hinrich to end the game. But for the time he was in there he was full-on ready for the moment, and delivered. Nate had 14 points in his 21 minutes, and was a huge security blanket for a Bulls offense that was predictably dragging at times. He also, in Bulls backup PG tradition, really relished hitting big shots against the Miami Heat.
Taj, Nazr (3-4 shooting!), Cook, you all played too and therefore are winners. There wasn't much else available to Thibodeau tonight, but he also didn't need to get his players especially up for this epic game. They made history by stopping it. And though in the context of these two teams winning titles it may not matter in the least, it has to really burn Miami that their dominant run ended to this team. Or more like 60% of it.