In the end, a different kind of pain prevailed.
This Bulls’ season was filled with talk of torn wrist and knee ligaments; of plantar fasciitis and spinal taps; of rosters stretched thin and Thesauruses stretched thinner after gritty and undermanned victories.
And it finally came to a close Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena when the Heat closed out these Eastern Conference semifinals with a 94-91 victory in Game 5. It’s the second time in three seasons the Heat have ended the Bulls’ season with a four-game losing streak.
The wild game featured the Bulls — who again were without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich — trailing by 18 early, leading by 11, blowing an eight-point lead to open the fourth and Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missing game-tying 3-pointers on the final possession.
That left a hurt that will linger all offseason.
Norris Cole’s lefty dunk with 5 minutes, 50 seconds remaining completed the Heat’s comeback, giving them the lead for good. Big fourth quarters from Dwyane Wade and Shane Battier revved the Heat.
Wade also blocked Butler’s 3-point attempt to force a shot-clock violation and then emphatically slammed home Cole’s miss with 3:01 left for a 93-86 lead.
But the Bulls, not surprisingly, didn’t go quietly. Carlos Boozer, huge with 26 points, hit a jumper. Robinson, who added 21 points, drained a 3-pointer with 1:43 remaining to make it a one-possession game.
LeBron James led the Heat with 23 points and Dwyane Wade contributed 18.
To describe the Bulls’ start as atrocious might be kind.
Marco Belinelli and Joakim Noah shot airballs and Belinelli committed a turnover on the first three possessions as the Heat eventually scored the first 10 points. Robinson drew two quick fouls and the Bulls committed a 24-second violation as the Heat increased their lead to 18-2, hitting their first seven shots. Then, Richard Hamilton’s turnover and clear-path foul dropped the Bulls into a 22-4 hole.
But Robinson snapped a string of 16 straight misses with a 3-pointer and the Bulls, behind Boozer’s 12 points, pulled to within seven.
In the second quarter, Robinson and Butler kept sinking 3-pointers and Butler’s capped a 34-14 run that gave the Bulls their first lead at 38-36. Robinson later capped his 11-point quarter with another 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer for a 53-47 Bulls’ lead.
“I have respect for them and these are tough guys,” Wade said of the Bulls. “They take on their coach’s toughness. Obviously, it helps that they dislike us. But what they did in the first round, to win that tough series and then come in here and win Game 1, they continued to fight.”
And so a season that featured Rose in street clothes; Robinson scoring and squawking; Noah becoming a first-time All-Star; Thibodeau screaming himself hoarse with his “next man up” mantra; Butler emerging; Boozer and Deng providing consistency; game-winning shots from Belinelli; grittiness from Hinrich and more is over.
The passion finally gave way to pain.
-Chicago Tribune Reporting