Bulls 93 - HEAT 101 Game 4 Recap

MIAMI – This game might not have been won on two possessions, but because of LeBron James, that wasn’t when the Miami HEAT lost it.

Many will rightfully point to James’ driving left-handed layup on Joakim Noah or his step-back jumper from the left elbow that effectively sealed the 101-93 victory, but twice in the final minute of regulation, Derrick Rose had the ball in his hands with the chance to put the Chicago Bulls ahead. With the floor spread for isolation plays, only James stood in his way.

With 52 seconds left and the game tied, the Bulls gave the ball to Rose and killed the clock, using almost a full 24 seconds. Rose then held the ball at the top of the key, with only James waiting in front of him.

Rose goes left, dribbling hard at James before stepping back. James slides his feet, shadowing his mark the entire way, ever leaving the crouched, defensive stance. James lunges back at Rose, who probes again with an aggressive dribble. This time, Rose steps back and gathers himself quickly for a jumper. James is just as quick to recover, and his hand is in Rose’s face as the miss goes up.

“It’s extremely hard where a 6-foot-8 guy can easily defend you,” Rose said.

Twenty seconds later, after a James offensive foul, the Bulls are in the exact same situation. Rose at the top of the key, James defending, the clock winding down. This time, Rose goes right, crossing over as he sizes James up. There’s no step back now, just one firm dribble right as he pulls up for another jumper. James is there again, hand up, as the shot misses the rim and the games goes to overtime.

Without those stops, reminiscent of James stopping Paul Pierce at the end of Game 4 in Boston following a turnover of his own doing, the series is tied 2-2 and Chicago has home-court advantage once again. But, just as it did all game when the Bulls forced the HEAT into ugly, stagnant offensive possessions, defense saved the day.

“Defense is our staple,” James said. “In order for us to win basketball games, we have to get stops and play at a high level.”

There were other high-level defensive plays from the HEAT’s now eight-man rotation. Udonis Haslem taking a charge in the final three minutes with the game tied was one and Joel Anthony had others, defending the rim with four blocks and countless other shot affectations. Dwyane Wade stood out, however, because of just how poor the other side of the ball was going.

Mired in a 5-of-16 night, including a missed fast-break dunk in the first quarter that sparked the Bulls to a run, Wade looked uncomfortable with the ball, his body out-of-rhythm with his mind. He kept the negativity on one end, though, coming up with two steals and four blocks, two of the latter coming in the final minute of overtime.

First, he blocked a pullup jumper from Luol Deng with a minute to go and the HEAT up six. Deng, however, would get the ball back, get fouled and hit a pair of free throws. But after James hit a step-back, elbow jumper on the next possession, Wade started the play of the night, blocking a driving Rose layup as he leapt so high, his legs flailed in the air.

Chicago wouldn’t get the ball back this time.

What happened next will be romanticized by many, and this time the poetry will be quite fitting. Noah had a bead on the ball from the moment it was blocked, but James sprinted the long way around to tip the ball along the sidelines. Noah still had the advantage, until James dove head first at the ball to tip it again. The pursuit wasn’t over. James then righted himself on his hands and scrambled with hands and feet at the ball.

Then it was Haslem’s turn to hit the ground and he did, tipping the ball to Miller to give the HEAT possession with the shot-clock turned off.

It was fitting that the HEAT sealed the win with defense, yes, but even more so that after the All-Stars made incredible plays, it was Haslem and Miller, one player struggling with injuries to his shooting hand all season, one not expected to return from injury at all, cleaning things up.

Haslem had his big moments to help seal Game 2 of this series and contributed nine rebounds tonight, but it was Miller who made his greatest impact of the season, hitting a pair of threes, grabbing nine boards and going off the dribble for another two scores, one a pullup jumper along the baseline, another a driving layup off an up-fake.

“Mike gave us a real boost,” Erik Spoelstra said. “He was able to break free a couple times and we loved it. We love him even when he’s taking shots maybe he doesn’t think he should. He’s unselfish to a fault.”

The threes were particularly poignant, as Miller’s primary job is to be a shooter, and the HEAT cannot play their eight-man rotation without shooters – like Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby, with three triples among them – spreading the floor.

They also can’t play anyone in this series, what Spoelstra called a bloodbath, that isn’t playing defense. Chicago’s 88 points per 100 possessions, and only 10 offensive rebounds this time, says each member of the HEAT is doing just that.

“Defense is the reason that we’re here,” said Chris Bosh, who hit a pair of calm, contested jumpers in crunch time. “Defense is the reason that we win every game. And defense is the reason we have a chance at winning Game 5.”

“It’s not going to be pretty,” Wade added. “But that’s not Miami HEAT basketball anyways.”