Anyone who tries to compare the 2012-13 Miami Heat to the 72-win Bulls will have a tough time winning an argument about which is the better team.
Jordan-Pippen vs. LeBron-Wade isn't far off, but the rest of the roster is a blowout win for the Bulls. Dennis Rodman or Chris Bosh? Toni Kukoc or Shane Battier? Ron Harper or Mario Chalmers?
One thing this Miami team definitely has in common with those Bulls, though, is when they come to your town, it's an event.
A raucous atmosphere at the United Center turned festive right around 10 p.m. as the short-handed Bulls rose to the occasion and ended Miami's 27-game winning streak with a 101-97 victory on Wednesday.
The Heat's streak was retired six games short of the American professional sports record of 33, set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. No word if Jerry West and Gail Goodrich popped a bottle of champagne when this one ended.
“I don't know if I've ever played Miami in the past three years without the atmosphere being unbelievable, here and there,” Luol Deng said. “People are always looking forward to it. It was just great to be part of that.”
Deng led the Bulls with 28 points, while Carlos Boozer piled up 21 points and 17 rebounds. LeBron James scored 32 points to lead the Heat.
“For us, it wasn't even about the streak, it was how they beat us the last time they came here,” Taj Gibson said. “We felt like we got punked on our own court, they blew us out (86-67 on Feb. 21), so we just wanted to come out here and play harder and do our jobs the right way.”
As for James, he was OK with the Heat falling short of the Lakers' record.
“It's one of the best that this league has ever seen,” James said. “We recognized that and rightfully so.”
From the Bulls' side, this game was all about being the aggressors, whether that meant making more hustle plays or simply hitting their opponent before getting hit themselves.
They jumped to a 13-2 lead from the opening tip and didn't get flustered when Miami rallied from a 13-point deficit to take the lead in the third quarter.
The decisive run came midway through the fourth quarter, when the Bulls got a pair of 3-pointers from Deng, another from Jimmy Butler and a fadeaway jumper by Kirk Hinrich to take an 86-78 lead with 5:32 remaining.
“I feel like we didn't panic with their pressure,” Butler said. “We gave up a few turnovers, but in the end, I feel like we handled it extremely well, made the right plays to the right people and shared the ball. I felt that was the biggest part of this game.”
There was an interesting exchange a few minutes later. James took a hard foul from Gibson on a drive to the basket and the referees checked the replay, but decided it was not a flagrant foul.
On the very next possession, Boozer set a screen on his former Cleveland teammate and James fired his shoulder into Boozer's chest, then swung his arm without making any serious contact. This time, the call was a flagrant foul on James.
The Bulls got only a single free throw out of the possession, but led by 9 with 3:52 left. Miami eventually got within 94-89 with 1:22 on the clock after a James dunk and Ray Allen drive.
Boozer came up with the game's biggest bucket, fighting off two Miami defenders to grab an offensive rebound and following it in to make it 96-89 with 57 seconds left.
A few minutes earlier, Hinrich ripped a defensive rebound away from Chris Bosh and in the third quarter, Butler gave the Heat a taste of its own medicine with a one-hand alley-oop dunk while Bosh backed into his chest.
“It didn't matter who they were playing, everyone was following the streak,” Deng said. “So it's great. It's a good feeling to say we're the one who ended their streak before they broke the record.”
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