MIAMI -- The perspectives could not have been more different. Luol Deng either got pushed in the back by Mike Miller on what became one of the final two game-deciding moments, or tripped over his own feet stumbling for a rebound.
That point could be argued.
What's inarguable, however, is this: Another final-second opportunity slipped away from the Miami Heat, and the Chicago Bulls -- spurned last summer in their bids to land Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh -- swept all three regular-season meetings from the team that signed them.
The Big 3? They're No. 3 in the East at this point, after Derrick Rose scored 27 points, Deng capped an 18-point effort with two free throws on a hotly debated play with 15.9 seconds remaining, and the Bulls beat Miami 87-86 on Sunday to hand the Heat their fourth straight loss.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said some players were moved to tears in the Heat
locker room. This much is clear: He and the Heat are hurting.
"This is painful for every single one of us to go through this, there are couple of guys crying in the locker room right now, it is not a matter of want," Spoelstra said.
As his comment lit up with reactions as it hit ESPN's SportsCenter and Twitter, Heat players recognized they're wearing a major target on their backs. And again discussed the strain of having to adjust to playing with a bull's-eye on their jerseys all season.
"Inside our locker room, we stick together, we're like brothers," Wade said. "We win together, we lose together. Outside, the Miami Heat are exactly what everyone wanted, losing games. The world is better now since the Heat is losing."
Carlos Boozer scored 12 and Joakim Noah added 11 for the Bulls, who moved a game ahead of Miami into outright possession of second place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago was down by 12 late in the first half, then became the fourth team since Feb. 24 to erase a double-digit deficit against the Heat.
"We have guys who can close," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Few would say that Miami doesn't -- but closing games has been, and continues to be, the biggest Heat challenge.
James had a chance to win it on a drive with 6 seconds left, missing a contested shot, and Wade's desperation toss from the right baseline bounced away as time expired.
Those were the 12th and 13th consecutive shots that the Heat have missed with a chance to tie or lead a game in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime. James has missed four in this four-game losing streak alone.
"I told my team, I'm not going to continue to fail late in games," James said. "I put a lot of blame on myself tonight. I told the guys that I just keep failing them late in games and I won't continue to do that."
James scored 26 points, Bosh added 23 and Wade had 20 for the Heat, who put together a rally to take the lead in the final minute.
The Heat were down 82-76 with 3:30 left when Rose made a jumper over Miller, before Mario Chalmers led the comeback effort. He hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 1:05 left, then blew past a closeout for an easy layup from the left side that put the Heat ahead 86-84 with 25 seconds remaining.
With Chicago down by two, Deng made one free throw, missing the second. Noah got a hand on the ball, keeping James and Erick Dampier from grabbing it cleanly, and in the chase for the carom referee Tony Brothers called a foul on Miller for pushing Deng in the back.
"Looked like he tripped on his own," Bosh said.
Deng went back to the line and made both this time, putting Chicago in front.
"That's the right call," Rose said.
The ball went to James, who drove on Noah and missed a layup from the left block. Wade got the rebound, tried a 15-footer from the baseline that bounced away, and time expired as the Bulls leaped in celebration and Thibodeau punched the air.
"We're just trying to play the best we can," Noah said. "I think we still have a long way to go and we can get a lot better. That's what is so exciting about this team. Our defense is really improving. We can still improve offensively as well. We can take this pretty far."
The Bulls shot 39 percent in the third quarter, still managing to outscore Miami 23-16 thanks to five Heat turnovers, a 14-9 edge in rebounding -- and Rose, who made a ridiculous shot early in the period look ridiculously simple.
Even a 1-on-2 break -- him against Wade and James, no less -- went Chicago's way. Rose bumped slightly into Wade to create separation on his drive downcourt, then leaped, double-clutched so James could fly harmlessly by from the left wing, and then spun a left-handed layup off the glass to cut Miami's lead to 54-50.
He skipped back upcourt, head back confidently, pumping up teammates. And Rose stayed that way until the finish.
"We're just taking it for what it is," Rose said. "We're just trying to win games, play hard and play aggressive on both ends."
Scottie Pippen, who lives in Miami, was behind the Bulls bench. ... The last time James played in as many as four straight regular-season losses was Feb. 22-March 1, 2006, when the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped five straight. ... Referee Scott Wall was shaken up in the third quarter, and Heat trainer Jay Sabol was summoned to check his left knee. Wall remained in the game.
Information from ESPN's Brian Windhorst and The Associated Press was used in this report.
- Tony Brothers
- Bob Delaney
- Scott Wall