Bulls snap Heat's 27-game winning streak
Chicago — With two-tenths of a second left, LeBron James took the final inbounds pass in his own end, dropped the ball to let time expire, turned and walked toward the exit.
No buzzer beater.
No fourth-quarter rally.
No record for James and the Miami Heat, either.
The Heat's bid for NBA history ended Wednesday night when their 27-game winning streak was snapped by the Chicago Bulls 101-97, setting off a raucous celebration inside United Center.
Miami finished six shy of the 33-game record held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
James said there was no shame in falling short.
"It's one of the best that this league has ever seen," James said, referring to the streak that began on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3. "We recognized that and rightfully so."
James tried to spur yet another comeback in the final minutes, getting mad after a rough foul. But the reigning MVP could never get the defending champions even or, more importantly, ahead.
With only two-tenths of a second left, James took the final inbounds pass in his own end, dropped the ball to allow time to expire, turned and walked toward the exit.
Luol Deng scored 28 points, Carlos Boozer added 21 points and 17 rebounds, and the Bulls brought the Heat's stampede to a screeching halt.
Miami's superstar did all he could to keep the run going, scoring 32 points and even collecting a flagrant foul during a physical final few minutes.
"We haven't had a chance to really have a moment to know what we just did," James said. "We had a moment, just very fortunate, very humbling and blessed to be part of this team and be part of a streak like that."
The Heat hadn't lost since the Pacers beat them in Indianapolis on Feb. 1. But after grinding out some close wins lately, including a rally from 27 down in Cleveland, no one counted them out until the final buzzer.
For the better part of two months, they were the NBA's comeback kings. They erased seven double-digit deficits during the streak. They found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter 11 times, and won them all.
"We understand, probably more so later on in our careers, the significance of that. And then that was it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We took that moment to acknowledge it, to acknowledge each other, that experience, but it was never about the streak. We have a bigger goal, but also right now, it's about "Are we getting better?"'
They walked off the floor stoically, not exchanging any handshakes or pleasantries with the Bulls. James slapped high-fives with a couple teammates and coaches, then glared at a fan who grabbed his head as he headed toward the tunnel leading to the visitors' locker room.
James was frustrated on the court at times, and showed more of the same in the locker room afterward with regard to how he's officiated.
He cited two instances from Wednesday alone _ a play where Kirk Hinrich took him down with two hands in the first quarter, and Taj Gibson appearing to make contact around his neck with about 4 minutes remaining _ where he thought the contact was excessive. Referees reviewed the Gibson hit, but did not award a flagrant foul. So, seconds later, James tried to barrel through Carlos Boozer on a screen, and got called for a Flagrant 1 himself.
"Those are not basketball plays and it's been happening all year," James said. "I've been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo, "Let's not worry about it too much,' but it is getting to me a little bit."
The Bulls, meanwhile, whooped and slapped hands with anyone they could reach.
It will go down as the second-longest winning streak in the history of American major pro sports. And some of those Lakers believed their time would pass as Miami's streak rolled along, with Jerry West among those saying that he believed the reigning champions had a real shot at pulling it off.
When it started, Miami was 5 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the overall NBA lead, only a half-game ahead of New York in the Eastern Conference race, held just a four-game edge over Atlanta in the Southeast Division and were the league's ninth-best road team in terms of winning percentage.
Funny what two months or so without losing can do.
The Heat now sit atop the overall NBA standings, gained 12 games over New York in the East entering Wednesday, put away the Hawks for good several weeks ago and are now, by far, the league's best road team. And with the streak over, all that's left now is getting ready for the postseason.
They trailed by as much as 13 in the first half, took the lead while outscoring Chicago 22-14 in the third quarter and were within two early in the fourth after a basket by Wade.
That's when Deng answered with a 3-pointer from the wing and Kirk Hinrich brought the crowd to its feet with a floater. Then, after a layup by James, Deng nailed a 3 to make it 83-75 with just over six minutes left.
It got testy after that. James did all he could to keep the streak going, taking enough hard hits that even his headband was dislodged, and finished with seven rebounds.
Chris Bosh scored 21. Wade added 18 points after a sore right knee sidelined him for victories over Charlotte and Orlando, but the Heat fell to a team that continues to give them fits even though Derrick Rose has been sidelined all year.
Deng came up big, burying four 3-pointers. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.
Boozer was a force inside. Jimmy Butler provided a spark with 17 points and the Bulls stopped Miami even though they were missing Joakim Noah (right foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Richard Hamilton (lower back).
For the Heat, luck simply ran out after recent wins in which they rallied trailed Boston by 17, Cleveland by 27 and Detroit and Charlotte by 11 each. They were also tied with Orlando late in the third quarter before pulling away, and when Battier nailed a 3 with 4:30 left in the third, it looked like they just might pull this one out, too.
They were leading 59-58 after that shot, and they were up by two before Boozer converted a three-point play off a neat bounce pass from Taj Gibson in the closing seconds to send Chicago into the fourth quarter with a 69-68 lead.
But they came up short down the stretch, fans chanting "End of streak! End of streak!" in the closing minute.
"We were much more competitive in the second half. It became make or miss in the fourth quarter, and we couldn't get the necessary stops we needed to," Spoelstra said. "In the last handful of games, those shots were going down and maybe that masked a few things going down the stretch."
Notes: Coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah was improving but wasn't ready to return. "It's better, but he's not quite there," Thibodeau said. "I just want to be smart about it."
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