Wow. Powered by a furious 18-3 comeback run down the stretch, the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls last night, 83-80, to clinch the Eastern conference title in five games. The Heat will now square off against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals; Game 1 is on May 31.
Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were cold entering the fourth quarter. Wade’s shoulder seemed to be bothering him; by midway through the third quarter, he had committed 9 turnovers. With Chicago holding a comfortable 12-point lead, 76-64, with just under four minutes left, the Heat would have to close the series in Game 6, back in Miami.
(VIDEO: LeBron James: Making the Shot)
Or so we all thought. Down ten, 77-67, with 2:36 left, Wade hit a layup. James sank a deep three. A Derrick Rose twisting shot in the lane put the Bulls back up by seven points, 79-72, but then Wade hit a three, and was fouled by Rose. Four-point play. Rose forced a shot in the lane and missed: James grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the floor, and nailed another three to tie it, at 79, with about a minute left. The fans fell silent, but you could hear their minds screaming. Oh my God, what just happened?
At this point, the Bulls were too scarred to recover. James knocked a Rose pass into the air, and grabbed the steal. What more could James possibly do? Oh yeah, win the game: James took a hard dribble to his left, and shot a jumper from the top of the key. Bang. The Heat had the lead, and after Rose missed a potential game-tying free throw, Miami had a trip to the Finals.
Miami beat Dallas in the 2006 Finals, and it would be hard to bet against the team here. But we can save the Finals chalk-talk for later. Over the next few days, you just have to admire the Heat. And no matter what you think of LeBron and his decisions, you have to appreciate his singular performance at the end of Game 5. No one has ever done it better — and his decision to take his talents to South Beach seems pretty smart now.
(PHOTOS: 23 Years of Air Jordans)