Miami and Memphis are headed to the NBA conference finals after beating Chicago and Oklahoma City respectively on Wednesday to complete 4-1 series victories.
Miami’s LeBron James scored 23 points and Dwyane Wade added 18 for the Heat, who won a see-sawing game. The hosts led 22-4, but were then outscored by a whopping 29 points over the next 27 minutes before snatching back the initiative and scoring 25 points to 14 in the final quarter.
The Memphis Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history by beating Oklahoma City 88-84.
Memphis’ Chris Bosh scored 12 points and Udonis Haslem added 10 for the Heat, who will play the winner of the Indiana-New York series, which the Pacers lead 3-1.
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose for the 99th straight game.
Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed potential tying three-pointers on the final possession of the season for Chicago, who dropped the last four games of the series.
“We’re disappointed in losing the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I was never disappointed in our team. 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 six.
“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, who has been battling bone bruising on his knee for weeks, but was still a pivotal player in the fourth-quarter surge.
“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.”
Shane Battier opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer to get Miami within five. Another three-pointer from Battier came not long afterward and he connected on a pair of free throws after being fouled on a three-point try to cut Chicago’s lead to 81-79.
Norris Cole had a pair of baskets, the second being a left-handed driving dunk, to put Miami on top, and the Heat found a way to close it out from there, even though it was not easy by any measure.
Robinson’s three-pointer with 1:43 left got the Bulls to 94-91. No one scored again, even though there were plenty of chances both ways.
The Heat will be big favorites against either Indiana or New York, though it is certain either opponent would enter a series against Miami with plenty of confidence.
The Knicks went 3-1 against the Heat this season, outscoring them by 11.5 points per game and winning both of their games at Miami convincingly. The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat, winning twice in Indianapolis and losing their lone game in Miami.
Memphis’ Zach Randolph had 28 points and 14 rebounds and Mike Conley added 13 points and 11 assists as the Grizzlies showed some trademark grit and grind to see off the Thunder.
The Grizzlies, who got swept out of the playoffs in their first three trips and had won just one post-season series before this season, have already made it farther than ever before, but still are not satisfied.
“We’re trying to do something really special. We want to go as far as we can go,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said.