CHICAGO -- More than an hour after the Miami Heat staged a remarkable finish for an 83-80 comeback victory over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, the architects of the rally -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- finally entered the interview room in the bowels of the United Center. But anyone who waited around for the Heat stars to break down the end of the game -- Miami closed with an 18-3 run -- quickly learned they were simply out of luck.
"We don't even know what happened in the last three minutes; I'm not gonna lie and say we do," Wade said.
"We want to watch the last four minutes of the game to see exactly what happened," James said. "We don't honestly know what happened. We know there were some big plays that happened and we know we won the game, but it happened so fast."
|Heat-Bulls: Game 5|
Derrick Rose is league MVP. So he's supposed to be able to close out down the stretch, right? Read >>
If the Heat players were confused about how the Eastern Conference finals came to an abrupt end in five games, just imagine how the Bulls felt.
The difference in Game 5 was the difference in the series: Miami's superstar savvy allowed it to finish strong, while Chicago's inexperience caused it to panic.
There's no other way to put it. As well as Wade and James played down the stretch, the comeback was fueled mostly by Bulls' mistakes. This game should have been over when the Bulls took a 77-65 lead with 3:14 remaining.
A couple more baskets and a couple less mistakes by Chicago and it would have been.
"All of these games were tough, hard-fought games that came down to the end," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Sometimes you have to will it, and it's a hustle play here, a hustle play there, and that's the difference.
"Going down the stretch, there were a lot of things that went against us, but that's all part of it. Hopefully, you learn from that and the next time around do better."
The Bulls obviously weren't ready for the intensity of the bright lights deep into the NBA playoffs. There also were many experts who doubted whether the Heat could withstand the pressure without wilting.
And let's face it, just about every NBA follower outside of South Florida was hoping that the Heat would get its comeuppance in the playoffs and reaffirm that it takes a complete team (and not just three All-Stars) to win an NBA championship.
Now Miami, which advances to the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks (the series kicks off Tuesday night), is four wins away from holding a gaudy I-told-you-so championship rally to make the celebration from last summer after James and Chris Bosh were signed as free agents seem reserved. There were quite a few bumps in the road during the regular season, but the Heat clearly are playing their best basketball (particularly on the defensive end) in the playoffs.
|LeBron James is all smiles after the game. Joakim Noah on the losing side does not share his enthusiasm. (AP)|
Still, it would have been easy for the Heat to pack in it in late in Game 5 after the Bulls took that 12-point lead -- especially with Wade (career-high nine turnovers) and James (who missed nine straight shots before the rally) struggling. With Game 6 slated for Saturday in Miami, the players knew they had the cushion of closing out the series at home in a couple of days.
But that thought never entered their minds, especially following a Spoelstra pep talk during a timeout with 3:53 left.
"I just remember in the timeout," Wade said, "Coach just looked at us and said: 'We've done this before. We've been in games where we've gone on 12-0 runs, 14-0 run. Just believe.'
"We came out of that timeout believing that if we get stops, we'll give ourselves an opportunity. That's all I remember."
Wade started the rally with a jumper and scored eight of the first 11 points in the run, including a four-point play when he was fouled (foolishly) by Rose while making a 3-pointer. James added two big 3-pointers, including one that tied the score at 79 with 1:02 to play.
But again, the comeback wouldn't have been possible without a little help -- heck, a lot of help -- from the Bulls, who managed just one basket in the final 3:53.
Rose clearly was a deserving winner of the league's Most Valuable Player award this season, but he looked very much like a 22-year-old getting his first taste of late-May basketball.
"It was me," Rose said when asked afterward for the reason the Bulls lost. "Turnovers, fouls. If anything, I'll just learn from it and do better next year. Everything is a learning experience. We're sad that we lost, but we'll take a lot from it."
To win a championship down the road, the Bulls will have to use their failure in this series as a learning experience. It's the traditional NBA formula: Playoff heartache before triumph.
The Heat, though, are trying to bypass the heartache step. From the result of this series, they just might do it.