In a span of 65 seconds, the Heat drilled a trio of 3-pointers -- two by LeBron James and one by Dwyane Wade -- that brought Miami back from a 10-point deficit. When James and Wade are hitting shots unconsciously, it doesn't matter who's on the floor with them, right?
Actually it does.
Those 3-pointers will rightfully take their place in the NBA's Hall of Daggers, but the Heat mounted their comeback not just with individual shot-making, but also with a series of more nuanced plays -- smaller things that are never quantified and rarely even noticed. And how can you while Wade is notching four-point plays and James is draining 118 feet worth of jumpers in a short burst of possessions?
While all the theatrics from James and Wade were playing out, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh were staying busy as stage managers. On virtually every Miami defensive stop, you'll find one or both of the Heat's big men plugging holes and buying time for their teammates to recover. Offensively, they set screens and, in Bosh's case, sank two huge free throws.
A few of the little things that helped fuel the Heat's rally:
With about 2:45 to play, the Bulls have the ball up 10. Chicago is working in the half court with Derrick Rose off the ball. Ronnie Brewer holds the ball up top as Rose cuts from the right sideline to the foul line. When James gets caught on the high side of Rose, Brewer delivers the ball to Rose, who wisely bursts left toward the hoop. But before Rose can touch paint, there's Haslem blocking his path, in perfect defensive position. Rose tries to hit Haslem's man, Taj Gibson, along the baseline with a wraparound pass, but Wade gets his hands on it. The ball lands, appropriately enough, in Haslem's hands. The Heat go the other way, where Wade finishes a layup on the break that cuts the Bulls' lead to eight points.
There's a din of anxiety inside United Center as the Bulls bring the ball up with 1:25 to go and their lead down to three points. With Bosh and Haslem holding down the frontcourt, the Heat have a nimble and intuitive defensive tandem -- one that helped get another crucial stop to bolster the Heat's comeback. Rose and Brewer run an angle pick-and-roll on the left side, but that's merely a precursor to the featured action on the possession. Luol Deng sprints clockwise from the left corner around a stack on the right block to catch a pass from Rose at the top of the key. Wade is trailing Deng all the way, but Bosh anticipates the pass and steps out on Deng -- and almost gets his fingertips on the pass. Deng has nowhere to go, so he returns the ball to Rose. With :09 on the shot clock, Chicago has one last option -- a high pick for Rose courtesy of Kurt Thomas (Bosh's man). James and Bosh cover this screen beautifully. Rose flirts with going right but Bosh has positioned himself perfectly, so Rose heads left, where there's more daylight. That's when Haslem steps up from the baseline. Rose leans into the veteran and flings up an awkward right-handed bank shot.
After Rose's miss, James collects the rebound and rumbles up the left sideline with Haslem in stride. Just as James reaches the 3-point arc, Haslem pastes Deng to buy LeBron space to his left to stop, square and elevate uncontested for a 3-pointer that makes it 79-79. James will forever be remembered in Miami for this shot, one taken in rhythm because Haslem provided the beat.
With the game tied and 1:01 remaining in regulation, the Bulls still have an advantage -- possession of the ball. After the inbounds pass, the ball finds its way into Rose's hands just outside the arc on the right side. Thomas sets an angle screen for Rose, who dribbles left. It's a strong pick from Thomas, enough to obstruct LeBron for a second or two. Fortunately for the Heat, Bosh corrals Rose the entire way, with James in pursuit after he fights through Thomas. Rose can't turn the corner on Bosh and, as the point guard elevates to pass back to Thomas, LeBron deflects the ball and then picks it up. It's a huge defensive play by LeBron, but credit Bosh for doing what few big men have been able to do consistently against the MVP -- contain him more than 20 feet from the basket. It's possible Bosh might never get more than token praise for his defense, but any close examination of what the Heat have accomplished defensively this postseason will identify Bosh as the lynchpin of the Heat's system.
When Rose misses a free throw and a chance to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining, the Bulls are forced to foul Bosh. The power forward calmly walks to the line and drains a pair. Though these are only points three and four for Bosh in the quarter, the free throws extend the Heat's lead to three with 16.8 seconds left. Bosh finishes the night with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Once again, his pick-and-roll coverage -- as described above -- was nearly flawless and he battled the Bulls inside all night.
When Rose gets the ball back from Kyle Korver with about five seconds remaining in the game's final possession, he dribbles left with LeBron smothering him. That's when Gibson lays out along the left side of the perimeter and stops LeBron in his tracks. With the clock ticking toward zero, Rose now has some air space moving to his left, but it quickly evaporates. Here's Haslem, toes on the arc, heels dug in and arms extended upward. Rose has no place to elevate and practically falls backward as he flings the Bulls' last hope to tie the game toward the hoop. LeBron, who has fought through Gibson, swats the ball away as time expires.