MIAMI—The odds had to overwhelmingly be in the Buls favor. Down by a point with 22.7 seconds left, with Derrick Rose heading to the line to shoot a pair of free throws. The reigning NBA MVP. He was a perfect 29 for 29 from the foul line in the fourth quarter this season. As if this moment needed extra significance, it was coming against the Miami Heat, the team that downed Rose and the Bulls in last season’s Eastern Conference finals by taking the series’ last four games.Rose missed the first. Missed the second, too. And missed a potentially game-tying jumper with 3.7 seconds left to boot, as somehow the Heat held on for a wild 97-93 win on Sunday. LeBron James — the player who Rose supplanted as the league MVP — scored 35 points for Miami, which never trailed yet never could relax until Chris Bosh sealed it by making two free throws with 0.1 seconds left. Bosh scored 24 points and added 12 rebounds for the Heat (15-5), who got 15 points from Dwyane Wade and pulled within one game of the Bulls (17-5) in the East.Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah each scored 11 for the Buls, who got 10 apiece from Ronnie Brewer and Carlos Boozer. Oh, that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of this one. “I let my team down,” Rose said. It had a little of everything. James leaped over — yes, over — 5-foot-11 John Lucas for an alley-oop dunk from Wade in the opening minutes, saying afterward he never saw the Bulls’ guard in his path. Wade missed nine of his first 10 shots, airballing the last of those. James missed a pair of free throws 5.1 seconds after Rose misfired on his tries in the final moments. There were skirmishes, hard fouls, pushing and screaming and shoving. Even an inadvertent whistle in the final moments that ultimately didn’t hurt Miami, although the Heat strongly believed the whistle took away their advantage. This wasn’t the playoffs. It only seemed that way. The Bulls trailed by 12 points midway through the second quarter, though never let Miami pull completely away. Not even in the fourth quarter, when it seemed like Miami was on the cusp: James connected on a long jumper to close the third quarter, then he and Shane Battier set each other up for 3-pointers on the first two possessions of the fourth for an 82-71 lead. The Bulls called time-out, and Rose willed the Bulls back. A floating jumper made it 84-82, and a knifing layup that he made seem simply effortless knotted the game for the fourth and final time with 6:55 left. The Heat answered with a 10-2 run, before the Bulls rallied again, Rose’s three-point play with 49.1 seconds left cutting the lead to 94-93. On the play where he missed the free throws, Rose then lost the ball on a drive, but drew contact from Miami’s Udonis Haslem and went to the line. Rose’s first hit the front of the rim and bounced away, and his second rimmed out. James grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Noah — only to miss both free throws himself. After James’ second miss, Wade said he knocked the ball away and Bosh appeared to emerge with control, but an inadvertent whistle led to a jump ball. James — who talked Bosh out of taking the tap himself — outleaped Taj Gibson, getting the ball to Mario Chalmers, who made one free throw for a two-point lead. The Buls wound up getting one last chance with 9.9 seconds left, calling time out. Naturally, it went to Rose, who weaved his way into the lane — but came up short. Bosh got the rebound, and Miami began celebrating. The Bulls played without forward Luol Deng and guard C.J. Watson, both sidelined with wrist injuries. Watson may be back in the lineup as early as Monday, and Deng – who has a torn ligament in his left, non-shooting, wrist — is “very close” to a return, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. Insistence that this was “just another game” notwithstanding, Miami started quickly. Wade appeared a bit more emotionally charged than usual after joining his teammates in the pregame huddle, and the Heat ran out to a fast early edge. Maybe it would be more accurate to say they “jumped” out to that lead. Wade set James up for three dunks in the first seven minutes, the last of which is probably going to be replayed for quite a while. James appeared to be forgotten as he hovered on the weak side of the floor, so he darted toward the basket. Wade tossed a lob his way — and the two-time MVP went over Lucas for a dunk that put Miami up 16-7. More than two hours later, that play — so wild that the NBA quickly tweeted video of the slam — almost seemed forgotten. The Heat celebrated, and the Bulls lamented. Just like in last season’s East finals.
NOTES—James had a large icepack strapped to his right shoulder during a first-half stint of rest. He was grabbing at the shoulder in pain early in the first quarter after a collision, but did not appear to have a serious issue…Boozer said he needed more than 20 tickets for the game. He’s been spending part of his offseasons in Miami for several years.