MIAMIFinally, the rivalry thats been discussed so often, not only in the cities where the teams play, but across the basketball universe, manifested itself in the chippy play that brought back memories of postseason basketball from an era long passed.
Unfortunately for the Bulls (47-16)who were without Derrick Rose for the third consecutive game and 26th of the seasonthat resulted in an 83-72 loss Thursday night to the Heat (45-17) at American Airlines Arena, as MVP candidate LeBron James was simply too much for the visitors.
The Bulls were offensively flawless in the early going, knocking down each of their first five attempts, as the starting post tandem of Carlos Boozer (10 points, five rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds) took advantage of the absence of Heat All-Star Chris Bosh on the interior.
Luol Deng (11 points), in his first game back in the lineup after missing a pair of contests due to a rib injury, was also productive from the outset, displaying no ill effects from the brief layoff, as he knocked down outside jumpers.
However, the Heat tandem of Mario Chalmers (16 points, five assists), who seemingly got to the rim at will, and James (27 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) literally went on the offensive, literally, to keep pace with their guests in the opening period.
James repeatedly penetrated and hit pull-up jumpers en route to a 15-point frame, as he was matched up with Noah on switches, aiding the hosts in taking a 27-23 advantage after a quarter of play.
Backup point guard John Lucas III (16 points, six rebounds, four assists) showcased his instant-offense game in the second periodpicking up for fill-in starter C.J. Watson, who focused on distributing the ball in his first-quarter stintto propel the Bench Mob, as the only true scorer in the unit.
When the regulars returned, Noah again made an impactboth with his play and inadvertently, as he took a flagrant-two foul from Heat reserve sharpshooter James Jones, leading to the latters ejection and inciting the partisan crowd to chant derogatory slogans at the Bulls centerhelping the Bulls maintain a slim cushion.
But Miami kept plugging away behind James and his struggling sidekick, Dwyane Wade (18 points, five assists), eventually seizing the lead from the visitors late in the quarter, as Chicagos offense went through one of its periodic droughts.
While the Heat werent exactly proficient at scoring themselves, they managed to go into the intermission with a narrow 42-40 edge.
Miami gained some separation after the break, as Wade came to life, Chalmers continued to contribute and James picked his spots in which to dominate, and while Noah put up a good fight, his presence alone couldnt prevent the Bulls from falling into a hole. All of that got overshadowed, however, as the chippiness of the game took center stage, with Wade shoving longtime rival Rip Hamilton, leading to a double technical and flagrant foul on Wade.
Minutes later, James set a hard screen in the backcourt on the diminutive Lucas, as he tried to pressure Chalmers full-court, leaving him slightly dazed before going after the much bigger man, leading to technical on both players and posturing between the two teams.
Although Lucas offense and a spark off the bench from Taj Gibson kept the Bulls from facing an insurmountable deficit, the Bulls faced a 66-61 deficit heading into the final stanza, mostly due to the runaway freight-train quality and circus-shot ability of James.
Behind Lucas offensive prowess, the Bulls stayed within striking distance early in the fourth period, as the visitors defense continued to make life tough for vaunted rivals on the offensive end of the floor.
But Chicago had their own issues manufacturing offensean eye injury to Deng didnt help mattersand by the midway point of the quarter, Miami extended its lead to double digits.
While the Bulls didnt let the game get out of hand, they simply didnt have enough offense to muster a comeback in the playoff-style battle and the Heat wore them down with similarly-stifling defense and timely scoring and playmaking by James, leading to baskets from co-star Wade and role players alike.
As the game wound down, the festive atmosphere in the building built up to a crescendo, as the home crowd once again celebrated the vanquishing of their chief foes.