CHICAGO -- As the Miami Heat came out of a timeout trailing by three points with 18.9 seconds to go, Pat Riley told Dwyane Wade to bank in a tying 3-point shot.
Bulls put champs in 1-0 hole
That's right, bank it in. As in, call "glass" while the shot was in the air.
Riley disclosed that little nugget from the podium in the interview room immediately after the defending champs' 96-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday, and I'm not sure anybody truly believed him.
Then Wade himself came into the room and said he couldn't quite get the correct angle for a bank shot, and people still didn't know whether he was being serious.
I certainly wasn't sure what to think, because as enamored as I am with every part of D-Wade's game, and as certain as I am that he can do things that only a handful of other players can do, I simply could not believe that he would come out of a timeout determined to increase the degree of difficulty on a game-tying shot by a factor of at least five.
"A banked 3? Were you serious?" I asked Wade as he walked to the team bus.
"Oh, yeah. That was serious. Very serious. I can bank 3s," Wade told me.
But Wade never got the angle he would have needed to attempt a 3 off glass, instead dribbling left -- as the Bulls forced him to do all day -- and into the corner for a 3-point attempt that came up short, the ball clanging hard off the rim and bounding over the backboard for a lost possession.
Miami was forced to foul, and Chicago wrapped it up as Andres Nocioni made a pair of foul shots with 9.8 seconds left.
All in all, the Heat didn't have a whole lot to feel all that unhappy about after they were outplayed and out-executed for a vast majority of the game. They still ended up having a chance in the final 20 seconds despite having lost Shaquille O'Neal to his sixth foul and despite getting zero sustained offensive production from anyone other than Shaquille O'Neal, Wade and Antoine Walker.
But it was a loss nonetheless, one the Heat are going to have to sleep on for the next two nights, a loss that substantially reduces their margin of error as they continue to try to jell on the fly in the postseason after having Riley, Wade and O'Neal together for only eight games during the regular season.
The Bulls were feeling satisfied but not overly pleased after getting big contributions from a pair of rookies, Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas -- and one huge tip from Ben Wallace, who deflected a loose ball out to Luol Deng for an offensive rebound with 23 seconds left. That forced the Heat to foul Ben Gordon and send him to the line for two free throws that increased the lead from 1 to 3 and forced Riley to offer that ill-advised advice to Wade.
"We just let one get away today," O'Neal said. "They had a lot of help out there. We just need to go out there Tuesday with the same effort, and we'll be fine."
The Heat headed back to the airport after the game and planned to land in Miami just after sunset, giving them the next two nights to sleep in their own beds and the next two days to work on their own practice court, trying to figure out what they'll need to do in Game 2 to reverse the outcome against a team that bears some resemblance -- but not as much as some folks would have you believe -- to the Baby Bulls teams of the past two years that couldn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Yes, Chicago's core is still comprised of Andres "Nobody Raises His Game For the Playoffs Like Me" Nocioni, Luol "I Will Show You Why The Bulls Didn't Trade Me" Deng, Kirk "I Got Jobbed Big-Time By The Refs Saturday" Hinrich and Ben "My Mom Sat Next To Sheridan on the Flight In" Gordon, but two of the biggest Game 1 contributors were a guy who was in Switzerland during last year's playoffs and a rookie who was still enrolled in college down in Louisiana.
Sefolosha, the Swiss rookie, took over the defensive assignment on Wade after Hinrich exited early in foul trouble and contained him quite well, while Thomas, the rookie from LSU, had a scintillating sequence of two blocks and an alley-oop transition dunk to put the Bulls ahead by 11 midway through the fourth quarter as they were building a 13-point lead that Miami would fail to whittle down completely over the remainder of the game.
"He's a long guy, and I never played against him before," Wade said of Sefolosha.
He'll be seeing more of him in the days ahead, and I'm fairly certain -- despite how much he's hurting and despite how little he can do with his left arm -- Wade will be able to figure Sefolosha out and keep this series from getting away from the Heat.
But I'm also fairly certain Wade shouldn't have been thinking about a bank shot coming out of that final timeout, and I'm of the opinion that Riley's parting words to Wade were indicative of a team that did not treat this playoff opener with the same level of seriousness as did their opponent.
They've still got time, but they'd better not take the Bulls lightly. With a couple more nights of suggesting circus shots at crunch time, the summer will begin a whole lot sooner than the Heat are accustomed to.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang
Don Ryan/AP Photo
Andres Nocioni epitomized Chicago's esprit de corps on Saturday, taking charges, scoring 17, hitting the Bulls' first 3-pointer, getting two blocked shots, and just generally making himself a pest.
If you are looking for early indicators on what this weekend means, we've got 'em.
Here's how often teams win ...
• With home-court advantage (all rounds since 1984): 264-81 (.765)
• When home team wins Game 1 (all-time best-of-7): 222-35 (.864)
• When home team wins first two games at home (all-time best-of-7): 76-4 (.950)
• When road team wins Game 1 (all-time best-of-7): 51-40 (.560)
• When road team wins 1st two games (all-time best-of-7): 5-1 (.833)
-- ESPN Research
In its breakdown of the LA-Phoenix series, Scouts Inc. addresses a key question:
Can the Lakers beat the Suns if Kobe Bryant takes a lot of shots?
Answer: Probably not.
Here's an excerpt:
Los Angeles was 5-9 in March and 4-6 in April.
The Lakers have battled injuries all year long and in the second half of the season have been unable to reestablish their chemistry.
Bryant's scoring jumped in March to 40.4 points per game for the month and he followed that up with a 34.1 scoring average in April. During those two months the Lakers went 9-15.
McGrady pours in 23 in second half vs. Jazz
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images
C-Webb with hang time? He's no MJ, but he showed he still has a little junk in his trunk with this spinner off the glass.
Quote of the Day:
-- Chris Ramsay
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Grant Hill, one of the Orlando Magic's few playoff veterans, tried to get a read on 21-year-old enigma Darko Milicic before Saturday's Game 1 and left the conversation utterly confused.
"We were unsure whether Darko was going to play because of his foot (injury) and I asked him and he mumbled a few things," Hill said with a confused chuckle. "I didn't know whether that was good or bad."
Milicic's mumbles turned out to a good sign Saturday as the Magic's power forward played one of the best games of his young career.
Not only did he play his way through a sprained foot, but he also was in attack mode in the very city where his NBA career disastrously began four years ago.
In Orlando's 100-92 loss to Detroit, Milicic scored 14 points and grabbed four rebounds Saturday in 27 minutes, nearly as much playoff playing time as he got in 17 games as a mop-up player for the Pistons during their runs to consecutive NBA Finals.
He has said repeatedly that he was miserable in Detroit for 2½ seasons, rarely getting to play as he apprenticed behind Ben and Rasheed Wallace.
Saturday was his chance to prove to the Pistons that he's grown as a player and a person.
"It was never a matter of us thinking that Darko couldn't play," said Detroit coach Flip Saunders. "But here he was behind Ben Wallace, Rasheed and Antonio McDyess."
Milicic's strong performance Saturday could lead to a big payday for him this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. By playing through the pain in his sprained foot, Milicic answered the knocks about his physical and mental toughness.
"Sometimes when you're hurt you tend to focus more and it helps you," said Hill." "He had a really good game back here in Detroit, which I know he was dying to do."
-- John Denton from The Palace
Dwight Howard had 19 rebounds in his first postseason game on Saturday.
Over the last 20 years only two other players had that many rebounds in their first postseason game: Shaquille O'Neal (19 in 1994) and Ben Wallace (20 in 2002).
The Cavaliers joined the NBA in 1970-71 and have never been to the NBA Finals, a drought of 35 seasons that could extend to 36 this year.
That drought is the second-longest among Eastern Conference teams and fourth longest in the NBA (and will be tied for third if the Cavaliers don't reach the Finals this season).
-- ESPN Research