Published May 16, 2013
MIAMI – The tape around Dwyane Wade's right knee was soaked with sweat and beginning to loosen, so he headed to the locker room to get the joint re-wrapped during the fourth quarter.
Must have been one amazing tape job.
Wade was brilliant down the stretch — and the Miami Heat are heading back to the Eastern Conference finals as a result.
LeBron James scored 23 points, Wade added 18 and the Heat clawed back from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls 94-91 on Wednesday night and close out their second-round series in five games.
"We gave it everything we had," James said. "I have no energy left."
The Heat outscored Chicago 25-14 in the fourth quarter to escape and advance.
"I knew it was going to be a tough fourth quarter," Wade said. "I just wanted to make sure I was good."
Wade made all three of his shots in the fourth, scored six points — his most in a final period since March 27, when Miami's 27-game winning streak ended at Chicago — and helped ice the victory with a dazzling 45-second blitz in the final moments.
In that span alone, Wade had a blocked shot, defensive rebound, offensive rebound and putback dunk to help cap a wild night of wild comebacks. The Heat blew an early 18-point lead, then engineered a late rally to finish off the depleted Bulls.
"Dwyane is uncanny," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "When the competition is at its highest, and its fiercest, he finds a way."
The Bulls still had two chances on their last possession to force overtime. But Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed 3-pointers, time expired, and Miami moved on to face Indiana or New York next week.
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose for the 99th straight game, as well as Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (illness). Robinson scored 21 points, Butler had 19, and Richard Hamilton 15 for the Bulls, who dropped the final four games of the series.
"Obviously we're disappointed in losing the series," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "But I was never disappointed in our team. I thought our team fought hard all year long. There was no quit in them."
A team that played without the 2011 NBA MVP in Rose, and dealt with a slew of other issues along the way, was within a couple shots from forcing the reigning champions to fly back to Chicago for a Game 6 on Friday night.
"We've got warriors here," Boozer said. "If we're healthy next season, we're going to be pretty good."
The Heat say they have more than a few of those warrior-types as well, including Wade. When the stakes were highest Wednesday, he was there for the Heat.
"I'll go on and on about how great he is," James said. "I really don't care for the trash talk that he receives."
For the Bulls, it was a sudden end to a season in which they never had their best player.
Rose was the NBA's MVP in 2011, but has now missed 126 of the Bulls' last 155 games with a variety of ailments — most seriously, the one where his knee gave way in Game 1 of Chicago's first-round series against Philadelphia in April 2012.
"He has to keep working," Thibodeau said. "I think he's in a pretty good place mentally. ... We feel good about where he is. He has the whole summer to build more confidence. That's the important thing."
Chicago was up by eight entering the fourth, before Shane Battier opened the period with a 3-pointer for Miami. Another 3-pointer from Battier came not long afterward, and he connected on a pair of free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try to cut Chicago's lead to 81-79.
Norris Cole had a pair of baskets, the second being a driving, left-handed dunk, to put Miami on top, and the Heat found a way to close it out from there, even though it wasn't easy, by any measure.
Robinson's 3-pointer with 1:43 left got the Bulls to 94-91. No one scored again, even though there were plenty of chances both ways.
"I had a good couple of minutes," Wade said. "I knew they've seen a lot of LeBron and Norris. I knew they weren't prepared for me to attack, which is what I was able to do."
Miami will open the East finals at home next week. If Indiana beats New York on Thursday — the Pacers lead that series 3-1 — then the Heat and Pacers will meet in Game 1 in Miami on Monday. If the Knicks extend the Pacers to at least six games, then the East finals open Wednesday, regardless of opponent.
"It only gets more difficult and more challenging," Spoelstra said.
Miami led 22-4 just past the midpoint of the opening quarter. Since the start of Game 4, in barely over 53 minutes of play, the Heat had outscored the Bulls by 41 points. Everyone in the building — except for the 20 or so guys in red uniforms or wearing suits on the Chicago bench — had to be thinking that the series was over.
And then Game 5 turned into a microcosm of the Bulls' season. They were unfazed, unflappable, unrelenting in the face of being counted out.
"We kept fighting," Joakim Noah said. "And kept fighting."
The Bulls kept getting stops on one end, making baskets on the other. Butler's 3-pointer with 4:46 left in the half gave Chicago its first advantage of the night, 38-36.
To recap, the game started with a 22-4 Heat run — and in the 13 minutes that immediately followed, the Bulls rebutted with a 34-14 burst.
By halftime, it was 53-47. In the third, after Chicago briefly led by 11 — remember, they were down 18, making that a 29-point turnaround — the Bulls took a 77-69 edge into the final 12 minutes.
"We grinded it out," Boozer said. "We had chances. We just fell a little bit short."
And Miami moved on, now halfway home in its quest for a second straight title.
NOTES: Miami is 6-0 in its last six chances to close out a series. ... The Bulls had 16 turnovers, which Miami turned into 27 points. ... Hinrich's calf injury was improving, the Bulls said, but not to the point where he could play.