CHICAGO (AP)—Pat Riley insists he’s a changed man, even if his return to coaching had a decidedly familiar feel.
He whistled to get his player’s attention. He stalked the sideline in a designer jacket and slacks. His hair was slicked back. And, yes, his team won with an All-Star center leading the way.
“Yes, I liked this win,” Riley said. “If we had lost, I’d have gone and retired.”
The team president stepped back into his old job Monday, when Stan Van Gundy resigned. He saw a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter dwindle to two, then watched a 3-pointer by Chicago’s Luol Deng clang off the rim as time expired.
“You coach on instinct,” Riley said. “It’s going to take some time for me to get real comfortable with all the things you have to do at the end of the game. It’s going to take me time to get up to speed on everything.”
Shaquille O’Neal scored a game-high 30 points in his first start and second game back for Miami since spraining his right ankle—an injury that knocked him out of 18 games. Dwyane Wade and Antoine Walker scored 14 apiece.
Despite a 12-point deficit early in the fourth, the Bulls refused to roll over for Riley.
They had one final chance after Wade hit 1 of 2 free throws with 6.9 seconds left. Deng, near the Heat basket, inbounded the ball to Chandler near midcourt and sprinted upcourt for a 3 from the left wing that hit the rim as the final seconds ticked away.
Riley’s return was a success, thanks in large part to his center.
Sidelined since Nov. 3, O’Neal grabbed 10 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s overtime victory over Washington and found himself on the bench with two fouls less than three minutes into Tuesday’s game.
He played 27 minutes but finished 12-for-21, blocked a shot and grabbed seven rebounds.
“You can play good defense against Shaq and he can still score,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “Tonight, he had it going and he hurt us.”
But Riley was the star.
He patrolled the sideline in a black jacket, crisp white collared shirt, cranberry tie and gray slacks. His hair was combed back, as usual, although slightly faded since his first tenure. He had a few words with referee Eli Roe after Wade was blocked by a crowd of Bulls midway through the first quarter.
In many ways, he looked like the same old Riley.
But Riley said there was a big difference between the man who returned to the sideline and the guy who handed the coaching job to Van Gundy just before the start of the 2003-04 season. That Riley cited fatigue, after back-to-back losing seasons.
“I’m sure these two years have given him some time to reflect and think differently,” said Alonzo Mourning, the centerpiece during Riley’s first Miami tenure. “But at the same time, I know we’ll get into some intense situations on the court. And if we’re not playing up to our potential, we’re going to see the old Riles.”
Although Van Gundy said he wanted to spend more time with his family and Riley said he tried to persuade Van Gundy to stay, there was speculation that O’Neal drove out the former coach.
O’Neal denied that Tuesday.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Coach Riley’s not that type of person where I can go into the office and say, ‘Why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that.’ He told me that when I first came here, that that’s not how this organization is run. I knew and understood that. I would never do that anyway.”
The Heat came into the season with championship expectations after losing to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals and acquiring Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey. But they were treading around .500.
“They’re gonna attack you; that was the whole mentality when we played a Riley team,” Payton said. “When I was in Seattle, that was all we thought about: He’s going to have them ready to attack you.”
The Heat attacked Tuesday. Then, they held off the Bulls.
Riley vowed to take a cautious approach with PG Jason Williams, who missed his third consecutive game with right knee tendinitis. “He is a very valuable player and I’m not going to take chances with a guy,” Riley said. “My career ended with quadriceps tendinitis, it ended a long time before that actually, but I’m not going to take chance with him.” … Gordon still feels some pain when he cuts. “It’s not all the way back yet, but I’ve just got to play through it and not think about it too much,” he said. “When you think about something that’s nagging, it seems like it’s never going to go away.”