The Bulls Thursday delivered Dwyane Wade the present he most wanted with a 98-95 victory over the Miami Heat in Wade’s homecoming.
Wade had 13 points, but did his part with two pressure free throws with 1:37 remaining and the Bulls holding on to a 94-92 lead. But it was Bulls leading scorer Jimmy Butler with 20 points who had the big plays down the stretch with a run of eight of 10 Bulls points to hold off the Heat.
The Bulls moved to 5-4 while Miami fell to 2-5.
Robin Lopez also had a crucial basket down the stretch and had 16 points and nine rebounds. Even though Miami center Hassan Whiteside had 20 points and 20 rebounds, Lopez got inside for several important scores. Rajon Rondo had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists while Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic combined for 23 points off the bench.
The game was in many respects overshadowed by the anticipation of Wade’s return to Miami for the first time after playing for the Heat 13 seasons and winning three titles. Wade was even greeted by applause from the arena staff when entering, had his name announced by similar to his introduction and enjoyed a video tribute of his playing career and involvement in the community during the first timeout of the game. It was entitled, “Thank You for 13 Unforgettable Years.” Wade saluted the fans after it was played overhead with Heat president Pat Riley applauding. There was much pregame discussion about Riley letting go Wade. Riley said on the TNT broadcast he was emotional, thankful and near tears thinking about Wade’s career in Miami.
And there also was a game to be played.
The Heat jumped on the Bulls with an 8-0 start, Miami making a pair of threes on the way to seven of 11 three pointers in the first half. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg remained patient and the Bulls recovered quickly amidst the bedlam in the arena. Lopez became the Bulls go to early with eight points and four offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Wade scored his first basket on a drive to get within 12-8 after three missed jumpers. The Bulls run gave them a 16-12 lead and then 23-22 after one quarter. The highlight for Wade was a slam dunk on a break with Rondo punching the ball forward on a turnover and Butler holding up to serve Wade the assist. The Bulls aware of their rebounding deficit Wednesday in Atlanta came back with an early 16-11 board advantage and 24-20 in the half. The game see sawed back and forth through the first half, tied at 53 at halftime with 12 lead changes and eight ties. Miami’s unusually good three-point shooting kept them in the game with the Bulls shooting 65 percent in the second quarter and Mirotic coming back with five points. McDermott added eight first half points with a pair of threes.
The teams continued to ping pong into the third quarter, the Bulls ahead 56-55, Miami back on top 61-58, the Bulls then 62-61 and tied at 63 midway through the quarter. The Bulls seemed to feel the effects of playing the second of the back to back as the offense became sluggish the last part of the third quarter as the Bulls went almost five minutes without a score. Though when the Heat didn’t score the last three minutes it was 70-70 going into the fourth quarter. Lopez was the leading Bulls scorer with 14, a new season high after three quarters.
Scoring was difficult to come by with the weary Bulls and low scoring Heat. The Bulls began to inch away early in the fourth with a Mirotic three and McDermott three-point play. Butler after a quiet night then made a pair of jumpers on isolation play to give the Bulls an 88-83 lead with three minutes remaining. But Miami scored five straight to get within a point with just over a minute remaining.