Wade, James rally Heat to Eastern Conference title
Once LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over the game, the Chicago Bulls didn't stand a chance.
Miami's two biggest stars played like it Thursday night, scoring all but two of the Heat's points in an 18-3 run that turned a 12-point deficit late in the fourth quarter into an 83-80 victory and a spot in the NBA finals. They combined for 22 points in the final period - the rest of the Heat had four - and were merciless defensively on Derrick Rose, including James' block of the MVP's last-ditch shot.
''We have some special players that, when we needed some big-time plays to save us, they were able to do that,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
If only Wade and James could remember it.
''We want to watch the last four minutes of the game and see what happened,'' James said. ''It went so fast.''
Furious, too. James scored 12 of his 28 in the fourth quarter while Wade went 4 for 5 in the final period. He scored 10 of his 21 points in the final period.
Now it's on to the NBA finals, where the Heat will face the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch of 2006, when Miami won its only title. Game 1 is Tuesday in Miami.
That it was James and Wade delivering down the stretch was only fitting. With apologies to Chris Bosh, they are the biggest stars in Miami - the entire NBA, really - and this is what everyone expected since they teamed up last summer. Forces on their own in Miami and Cleveland, they saw when they played together at the Beijing Olympics how dominant they could be if they combined efforts.
So Wade spurned his hometown Bulls to stay in Miami. And James spurned his entire hometown.
''I understand a lot of the backlash. I also understand I did what was best for me, best for my family,'' James said. ''I wanted to team up with guys that would never die down in the moment. ... D-Wade came to me and said it was possible, and we made it happen.''
And in the most dramatic of fashions, of course.
After all, these are the same guys whose introduction party in Miami was a spectacle usually only seen with rock stars.
''They're Hollywood as hell,'' Joakim Noah said, ''but they're very good at the same time.''
Wade is a proud Chicago native, growing up on the South Side, going to school at Marquette in nearby Milwaukee and coming back for part of the offseason. He even flirted with the Bulls during last summer's free agency free-for-all. But playing in his hometown has always been a challenge for Wade - he came into the game shooting just 43 percent in 22 career games at the United Center - and it was no different early on.
He was 2 of 8 for 11 points through the first three quarters, and had tied his playoff career high with nine turnovers. When he went in for a fast-break with five minutes left, only to watch the ball roll off the rim, it seemed to sum up his night and his woes in Chicago.
When Ronnie Brewer made a 3-pointer a minute later to give Chicago a 12-point lead, it looked as if James, Wade and the Heat would be taking the series back to South Beach.
''We don't even know what happened,'' Wade said. ''I just remember in the timeout (after Brewer's 3), our coaches looked at us and said, 'We've done this before. We've gone on 12- or 14-point runs. Just believe.' That's all I remember.''
Wade banked in a shot, and the Heat were off and running. Wade stole the ball from Rose at the other end, and raced back downcourt for a layup. He then fed James for a 3-pointer, cutting Chicago's lead to 77-72.
After a pretty turnaround by Rose, Wade drilled a 3-pointer from what seemed like half-court. He drew a foul from Rose in the process and made the free throw for the four-point play.
''(Wade's) got something different, a different makeup inside of him. He's able to rise up to the occasion no matter what's happening during a game,'' Spoelstra said. ''When it's winning time, there's really not many players better than him in the last two minutes.''
Not to be outdone, James made his own long-range shot to tie the game at 79 with 1:07 left. He then forced Rose into another bad pass, and scored on a long jumper, giving the Heat its first lead since late in the first quarter.
Rose had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but James - who stands a good 5 inches taller - was relentless. He got in Rose's face and refused to budge, forcing Rose to put up a bad shot that wasn't anywhere close to being good.
When the final buzzer sounded, Wade and James found each other at halfcourt and embraced.
''There's no sense of relief right now,'' James said. ''We have a lot of work to do still, and we look forward to the challenge.''
Follow Nancy Armour at http://twitter.com/nrarmour