MIAMI — The Bulls seemed to get the break they needed with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter of a wild Game 5 at Miami.
After trailing by 18 points and then leading by 11, the Bulls needed one more late run and their scoring hero of the playoffs, Nate Robinson, had been quiet for a while.
But then Robinson got flattened by Dwyane Wade as he threw a pass across the court. No foul was called, but the Bulls ended up getting points on the possession when Carlos Boozer followed in a missed shot by Jimmy Butler.
Getting hit hard seemed to light a fire with Robinson twice before this postseason — in the triple-overtime win over Brooklyn, on a nasty pick, and again in Game 1 at Miami when he took 10 stitches in his upper lip after LeBron James fell on Robinson’s head.
Sure enough, Robinson drained a tough 3-pointer to bring the Bulls within 94-91 with 1:43 left. The Bulls missed a good shot on the next possession, then Robinson and Butler missed potential tying 3-pointers in the final 15 seconds, and the season was over.
This Bulls team might someday be nominated for the Guts and Grind Hall of Fame, but it didn’t have enough to extend the defending champion Heat beyond five games. Miami hung on to win 94-91 and moves on to face Indiana or New York in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We fought like heck,” Robinson said. “We came back and made it a game. This has been a great season for our team. We played together. A bunch of veterans that love each other and play for each other, and this is the best team I’ve been on.
“Playing against the best team in the NBA, we gave it a heck of a run.”
At the start of the day, many observes figured the Bulls wouldn’t go out easily. Then Wednesday’s game tipped off and they looked like an out-of-their league group of pickup players. Miami hit its first 6 shots and rolled to an early 22-4 lead.
It turned out, initial observations were correct: The Bulls did not give up easily. They took the lead at 38-36 midway through the second quarter. The advantage reached 11 points late in the third quarter, and the Bulls led 77-69 heading into the fourth.
But then Shane Battier, who had been cold all series, knocked down consecutive 3-pointers and Miami made a successful push.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Boozer said. “We’re a tough group, face adversity, we’ve got no excuses. We don’t cry about nothing. We’ve got guys hurt playing through injury. If we’re healthy next season, we’ll be pretty good.”
Boozer had one of his best games of the season, producing 26 points and 14 rebounds. Robinson finished with 21 points, Butler scored 19 and forced James into a poor-shooting game (5-for-14, 23 points).
There’s no other way to spin the story of this season without focusing on these two facts: Derrick Rose never came back from knee surgery, and the Bulls still made it to the second round of the playoffs, even after losing Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich during the first round.
“No question this was a hard year,” Joakim Noah said. “A lot of adversity, a lot of injuries. But there was no giving up in this team. It’s always hard to lose, but I’m really, really proud of this team … I’m really proud of the character of this team and how hard we fought all year.”
There weren’t a whole lot of handshakes between players when this game ended — there were a few — but James paid the Bulls a strong compliment in the interview room.
“Emotionally, the game took a lot out of us,” James said. “I’m not sure about all my closeout games, but it was one of the toughest ones we had and probably one of the toughest of my career.”
Wade, considered questionable with a sore right knee before the game, ended up playing 37 minutes and scoring 18 points.
ŸFollow Mike’s Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.