Dwyane Wade may have entered the league less than a decade ago, and his youthful indiscretions may still making national news, but the man has been around for long enough to know how to drag a team to victory. The Miami Heat star worked his 158th playoff contest in Wednesday night’s Game 5, against a Chicago Bulls team he grew up rooting for. And despite a debilitating knee injury that forced him to hit the locker room to “re-adjust” (read: manually move his right kneecap back into place) during the third quarter, he still had enough to put his Heat over the top, and knock off the Bulls on Miami’s way to its fifth Eastern Conference final in the last nine years.
Wade dunked once in that pivotal fourth quarter, but the biggest damage he did to Chicago’s attack came by way of a loping, veteran style of misdirection movement, setting the Bulls’ defenders off course while raised for either in-between drives or long jumpers. Game 5 didn’t provide Wade the finest box score of his playoff career, but the setting and the stumbling blocks were enough to remind Heat fans of what a special player they’ve had the pleasure to have known since 2003.
Chicago’s fans, you can make damn sure, feel the same way about this particular batch of specialChicago Bulls. Just two nights after been blown out in an embarrassing 65-point showing at home in Game 4, the Bulls responded by falling behind quickly to the Heat by a 22-4 score. And yet it wasn’t just this initial obstacle that could have forced the Bulls into giving into a blowout loss to end their season, as there were other potentially enervating factors involved.
Combined with the Game 4 tally, the Bulls were outscored by a 110-69 margin over the series’ last 55 minutes by that point, all with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich looking on from the team’s bench, and Luol Deng watching from home as he recovered from a spinal tap. Instead of fading away, the Bulls did their city proud by somehow embarking on a 49-25 run against a Heat team that truly was not taking plays off. Chicago’s offensively-lacking roster nearly doubling up a Detroit Pistons team in March was quite the effort, and yet against the defending champs the Bulls’ quick ball and player movement on offense and by-this-time-instinctual continued discussion and care on defense allowed the team to make yet another game out of what should have been something much more embarrassing.
Jimmy Butler, for the fifth time in a remarkable postseason, played the entire 48 minutes in the loss. Nate Robinson shook off a 0-16 shooting run that carried over from the team’s Game 4 debacle to warm up and leave every observer shaking their head once again – finishing the night with 21 points on just 15 shots. Richard Hamilton came out of nowhere to provide the sort indefatigable game opponents grew to learn and hate during his heyday with the Detroit Pistons, providing 15 points off the bench. And Carlos Boozer, who has received an unending daily (and sometimes deserved) delivery of disrespect by both obsessed and fair weather Bulls fans over the last three years, came through in the comeback with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Self-aware Bulls fans that lived through Michael Jordan’s time with the team know what it’s like to have more than enough, and that was what the defending champions had on Wednesday. LeBron James, hounded by Jimmy Butler’s right arm all night, missed nine of 14 shots but earned 15 trips to the free throw line. Shane Battier shook off a big miss of a series before hitting two crucial three-pointers in the second half. Norris Cole was clearly perturbed by a frustrating third quarter, and yet his derring-do returned to form in the fourth quarter as the Heat made their comeback from 11 points down.
All while Wade, perhaps on his way to a third NBA title, surveyed the spots. Picking the places where he could use the back and forth dribble that he developed in Chicago’s south side, using the veteran know-how that both allows for him to somehow move a bruised kneecap back into a more functional place during timeouts, and lead his team to victory over a Bulls team he once cheered for.
It’s that Chicago memory. It’s long and it’s stubborn and it’s silly and annoying and you don’t have to like it, but it takes quite a bit to destroy. This remarkable Chicago Bulls team had it in long supply, during 2012-13. Dwyane Wade just needed about 12 or 13 minutes, partially spent in the locker room while re-adjusting his leg, to put it to use at the best possible time. This year’s Bulls team couldn’t lose to a more appropriate player.