The Miami Heat eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the playoffs Thursday night.
It was a low scoring game, 83-80, compounded by very physical defense. The Bulls led most of the game, with the Heat making runs throughout the game. Each time, Chicago would weather the storm and push the lead back to double digits.
Then, trailing by 12 with just minutes left in the fourth quarter, Dwayne Wade sparked a comeback with a four-point play. He and Lebron James would score eight points apiece, leading an 18-3 run to seal the game and the series.
This is the first year these stars have played together, and yet, despite all of the questions, the scrutiny, they showed they deserved to win. With the game on the line, on the road, they were able to come up big, combining for 69 points of the team's 83 total. James and Bosh had double digit rebounds.
The Bulls entered the postseason with the highest expectations since Michael Jordan. As the playoffs went on and the team was tested by the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks, it seemed something was off. Despite decent defense, players like Noah and Boozer weren't contributing as had been expected. Miami exploited their big men, making the jump shots and driving to the hoop when defense shifted to them.
We saw the Bulls are capable of pushing far into the playoffs and can win one, but MVP Rose needs another star beside him. Come the fourth quarter his ability to take over a game is hindered from being the primary scorer and leader for Chicago. At many points in this series he was uncomfortable and unable to find his shot from range. Rose made some mistakes, fouling Wade on the four-point play and missing a game tying free throw in the final 27 seconds of the game. He scored 25 on 9 of 29 shots.
Rose will use this, and will continue to improve. Rest assured, the Bulls will be back next year.
So now the table is set. A rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals. Instead of Shaq, the Heat have their Big Three. The Mavericks have trusty ol' Dirk Nowitzki (physically improved), and a tougher front line with excellent ball distributors.
Nowitzki looks to reshape the Dallas Mavericks past their (pardon the expression) "choke artist" reputation that was much a result of those Finals and the flameout (again, pardon the expression) the following year against the Golden State Warriors.
On the opposite side, Lebron James looks to silence his critics and begin his reign as King of South Beach.
Who will silence the critics? We'll just have to wait and see.