Down 12 points with 3:14 remaining in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat finally decided they were ready to advance to a bigger stage.
After a lackluster performance for much of the night, the Heat turned up the pressure, and there was nothing the top-seeded Chicago Bulls could do about it. Miami went on a breathtaking 18-3 run to drain the life from a shell-shocked United Center in Chicago and claim an 83-80 victory over Chicago on May 26.
Miami will face the Dallas Mavericks for the NBA Championship, with game one of that series scheduled for May 31 in Miami.
Trailing 77-65 against Chicago, forward LeBron James and guard Dwyane Wade combined for 16 of Miami’s final 18 points, using a trio of three-pointers to rapidly erase a double-digit lead.
“We don't even know what happened,” Wade said after the game. “I’m not going to lie to you and say we do. I can't remember all the plays.”
With the Bulls’ lead down to 77-69, James (28 points, 11 rebounds) nailed a three-pointer before Wade (21 points, six rebounds) completed a four-point play when he was fouled on a converted three-pointer. James then came back with another three-pointer to tie it at 79-79 with exactly 1:00 left in the game.
After a Chicago timeout, league MVP and Bulls point guard Derrick Rose turned the ball over to complete Chicago’s breakdown, as James nailed a long two-pointer to put Miami ahead 81-79.
Rose (25 points, eight assists) had a chance to tie the game on a pair of free throws but his second shot bounced off the left side of the rim and into Heat forward Chris Bosh’s hands. Bosh was immediately fouled, and sank the deciding free throws. Rose’s final three-point attempt was blocked by James, and the celebration was on for the controversial Heat.
The addition of James and Bosh via free agency last summer was perhaps the greatest off-season coup in NBA history, but the transaction made Miami a hated team. James was at the forefront of the criticism, leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers without bringing the team a championship.
“I understand a lot of the backlash that came at me going to Miami,” James told reporters. “But understand also, I did what was best for me, best for my family and best for me being a professional athlete.”
Four victories are still required for James to claim his first ring, and he said he isn’t worried about critics, just a championship.
”What's today's date…the 26th?” he asked. “I say we've got about a month left. About a month left of continued hate. We'll see what happens next year.”
Miami’s 4-1 series victory over Chicago gives them a 12-3 playoff record this season. Their Finals matchup with Dallas will be a repeat of the 2006 NBA finals which Miami won, 4-2, despite Dallas jumping out to a 2-0 series lead.