Rust, fatigue or too much rest. Those are the usual excuses when a better team, the Miami Heat, coming off a first round sweep, falls at home against the Chicago Bulls, missing too many players to be taken too seriously, but comes away with a shocking win to open their conference semifinals series, thanks to nothing short of a heroic performance from Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.
Everyone expected LeBron James to heat up at some point, and he did. He finished with 24 points after a strong start to the fourth quarter, as it looked like the Bulls were fading away, and the NBA champions’ depth and talent was becoming too much.
But Joakim Noah guarded everyone and did everything on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Jimmy Butler continues to play entire games, guarding LeBron James the entire time and making life and every shot a hard one. Even if James did manage to get away from him, Butler fouled him, just to make sure LeBron remembered there are no easy shots. Butler had a huge game with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
There’s Nate Robinson, who pulled on his Mighty Mouse suit for the fourth quarter with his quick dribbling and unstoppable pull up jumper the Heat had no way of defending. Always contested shots, but as the game drew out, the Heat’s defense and reaction time became slower. It ended up being open shots for Marco Belinelli (10 points) to bring the Bulls back from a 86-83 deficit with less than two minutes remaining. Nate Robinson grabbed the lead back with another long, shot-clock draining possession, pulling up above Mario Chalmers for another two.
The home fans? Stunned. The Miami Heat themselves? Just as much. Players weren’t sure of what to do on those final possessions with the lead and game slipping away. It fell to LeBron James trying to take Butler in a one on one without any help from spacing or screens. It ended in an air-ball, and there went home court advantage out the window, as the Bulls took the opener 93-86.