The emotion of playing in Miami may have been missing for Dwyane Wade but it was still the Miami Heat on the other side, the franchise he put it all on the line for before the two sides couldn’t agree on a contract last summer.
So he still had some extra juice on a snowy Saturday night that probably made him yearn for the breeze of South Beach, giving the pesky Heat some of his wrath and little flash in a 105-100 win at the United Center.
Wade scored 28 points on 11 of 24 shooting in 35 minutes to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two blocks against his former team.
Wade got the Bulls off to a better second half start while Jimmy Butler, all too happy to lurk in the wings while Wade got his shots up, had his say late in the fourth when the Heat hung around longer than expected.
Butler and Wade combined to strip Goran Dragic on a weave play that could’ve tied the game for the Heat with seven seconds left and the Bulls leading by three, as Butler sealed the game with two free throws, finishing his 31-point, seven-rebound and five-assist night.
“We got a win. We found a way to win,” Wade said. “We lost a game like this earlier this year (Lakers). We weren’t playing great and they found a way to beat us. In this league, there’s gonna be some nights where you play amazing and some where you play just well enough to get a win. Never begrudge a win.”
Saying that in the aftermath of a win came because the Bulls’ fourth-quarter offense again came to a crawl, a deal one would have to negotiate when having players like Wade and Butler on the floor who can dominate the ball for stretches to make plays.
But the Bulls shot just 40 percent on six of 15 shooting as Wade and Butler combined to score 16 of their 22 points.
“That will be the big emphasis and focus in practice on Monday, we’ll really work on our fourth-quarter execution,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Butler was bullying the smaller and slightly-built Heat defenders, he got to the basket at will and kept the pressure on the interior defense of Hassan Whiteside. Most of his production came from the midrange or the paint, as the Bulls took just eight 3-pointers and committed just 11 turnovers—making for a clean if not old-fashioned game.
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“I’m confident we’ll hit double digit 3-pointers again,” said Hoiberg in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. “You shoot eight of them, you take what the defense gives you. I thought the rhythm and flow was good for three quarters.”
They seemed to follow Wade’s lead, at least in style, as he probed and spun and danced his way to the rim for as many shots in the paint as he’s taken all season despite leaving more than a few on the lip of the rim or giving the officials sideways looks after not getting what he felt were rightful foul calls.
Wade scored 11 third after the Bulls were sleepwalking on one end of the floor for the first half, leading to a 55-all game, the type of performance that Gregg Popovich would’ve given a media lashing to afterwards.
“I thought we were going through the motions a little bit, picked it up in the second half,” Hoiberg said.
Dragic owned his matchup against Rajon Rondo, getting to the paint at will, forcing switches and attacking the rim relentlessly whenever the Bulls left a sliver of an opening, scoring 21 with 11 assists before his unfortunate turnover.
One can say Dragic essentially kept the Heat in it for the first half as the Bulls’ defense hadn’t received its wake-up call, but it came in the form of Wade’s aggressiveness to start the half.
“He was pretty much going where he wanted in that first half and we struggled with it,” Hoiberg said.
A sweeping hook shot was followed by the 34-year old splitting the defense on a fast break for a dunk and 3-point play, and he finished the spurt with a baseline spin and layup to put the Bulls up double-digits.
“I thought he had a lot of pop and good legs, and one dunk he looked like a young 22-year old Dwyane Wade,” Hoiberg said. “They had good matchups, Dwyane obviously had it going tonight.”
But the Heat wouldn’t go away—or the Bulls wouldn’t put a team playing its fourth game in five nights away—as the energetic Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson came off the bench to give an ailing team a boost, combining for 26 points.
Whiteside was swatting away more than his share of shots and changing a few others, as he scored 18 with eight rebounds and three blocks but went scoreless in the fourth until his basket that brought the Bulls’ lead to one with a little over 10 seconds left.
It wasn’t pretty but it was effective enough for the Bulls to settle themselves and reverse a too-common trend of a big letdown after a big win.