With Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng out with various aliments and forward Carlos Boozer less the force necessary, the Chicago Bulls nonetheless stunningly pulled out Game 1 of their second-round playoff series in the defending champion Miami Heat’s home arena.
On the strength of a phenomenal defensive effort, an unyielding competitive nature and diminutive but explosive guard Nate Robinson, the Chicago Bulls seized a 93-86 victory for a 1-0 series lead over a Heat team that had won 41 of its previous 43 games.
“We’re just out there having fun,” said Robinson, who had 24 of his 27 points in the second half. “We’re playing for each other and the city of Chicago. Nobody has us winning any games. I heard somebody say we’re going to get swept. We’re going to give them our all.”
Since 1983-84, the team that has won Game 1 in the conference semifinals has prevailed 80.2 percent of the time.
“We know how good they are,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “This is just one game. We’re going to have to play a lot better.”
Jimmy Butler played the entire game for the third straight time, admirably defended league MVP LeBron James and contributed 21 points and 14 rebounds.
James finished with 24 points but had just nine through three quarters.
“Jimmy played huge against the best,” Joakim Noah said. “I’m really proud of him.
The Bulls hung around through three quarters but then a Heat team — and, in particular, James — that started off rusty after its eight-day layoff began to assert itself. James scored six of his 15 fourth-quarter points in the first 1 minute, 49 seconds of the quarter and the Heat eventually led by seven.
But Noah grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to Belinelli, who tied the game with a 3-pointer with 4:59 left. Chris Bosh missed a jumper and Robinson sank his from up top with 1:18 remaining. After Dwyane Wade missed a 3-pointer, Robinson waved off a Noah screen to drive the lane on Ray Allen and scored on a scoop shot with 45.5 seconds left.
James then shot an air ball and Robinson, who matched Butler with 11 fourth-quarter points, split two free throws with 24.6 seconds left. James missed another 3-pointer and Robinson sank two free throws with 9.3 seconds left, capping the Bulls’ 10-0 run to close the game.
The Bulls defense limited the Heat to 39.7 percent shooting. And a 46-32 rebounding edge and 17-8 in second-chance points helped the Bulls overcome 16 turnovers.
“I’ve played on some tough teams, but this one is something special,” said Robinson, a seven-year veteran. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for 10 years. I told Coach, we just love to play for each other.”