MIAMI (AP)—Michael Jordan’s old Chicago jersey hangs over the Miami Heat’s home floor, a tribute to the six-time NBA champion.
Now, a new bunch of Bulls want a title of their own after ending the Heat’s reign atop the league with a four-game sweep.
Ben Gordon scored 24 points and Luol Deng had 22 to lead Chicago past Miami 92-79 Sunday in Game 4 to clinch the first-round Eastern Conference series. The Bulls advanced in the postseason for the first time since Jordan’s last title in 1998.
Chicago, which meets Detroit next, became the first team to oust a defending champion in the first round since Phoenix did it to San Antonio in 2000.
“We felt confident coming into this series,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We felt like we could win.”
With good reason. Including playoffs, Chicago was 7-1 against Miami this season, starting with a 108-66 win on opening night, spoiling the Heat’s championship-ring celebration, and ending their season by allowing only two points in the final 5:27 of the clincher—closing the game with a 14-2 run.
The coach of that Suns team that beat San Antonio seven years ago? Scott Skiles, who coaches the Bulls now and who put together a plan that befuddled Miami all series long.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Skiles said. “We’re in a funny position here. We want to enjoy it. It was great. We played well. We played hard all four games. We deserved to win—but we want to keep playing.”
Chicago became the 80th consecutive NBA team to advance after taking a 3-0 lead in a series. Only three teams in major pro sports have overcome such a deficit, and the Heat won’t be joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox in that exclusive club.
“We ran into more than a formidable opponent,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “They are a great team. … They deserved to win. There’s no doubt in my mind. They can go a long way.”
Dwyane Wade scored 24 points for Miami on 8-for-22 shooting, and added 10 assists. Shaquille O’Neal had 16 points, Alonzo Mourning scored 14 and James Posey had 18 rebounds—a club-playoff-record 17 on the defensive end—for the Heat.
“They were the better team,” Wade said. “They won. We’re not into what they were doing last year, saying they should have won. … They beat us fair and square. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Miami, which didn’t trail until late in the third quarter, got within one point twice in the fourth, first on a jumper by Wade with 11:15 left, then when Posey—a free-agent-to-be who said after the game he wants to return to Miami— made a pair of free throws with 5:27 remaining.
It was all Chicago from there.
“They had our number, first game of the season,” O’Neal said. “And they had our number the rest of the season. They just had our number.”
Wade scored with 2:32 left to get Miami within 84-79, and the Heat then turned to the Hack-a-Ben strategy—intentionally fouling the Bulls’ Ben Wallace, a notoriously terrible foul shooter—with hopes of getting the ball back. But Wallace made all four of his tries within a 21-second span to push the lead to nine, and the white-clad Heat crowd began shuffling into the offseason.
Wallace finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds and Andres Nocioni had 11 points for Chicago, which committed only five turnovers while forcing 17.
“This is a great feeling. We’re someplace we’ve never been before,” Deng said. “The guys made it a goal at the beginning of the season to get back to this spot, and it worked out that we played them in the first round.”
Miami scored the game’s first eight points, the first six of those coming from O’Neal—who was 6-for-7 in the opening half. But the Bulls coolly withstood the opening burst and knotted the game at 14 when Gordon hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter with 5:30 left, the first of four ties in the half.
Chicago never led in the first half and trailed 48-44 at intermission, but probably felt quite good about the second quarter. The Bulls made only 33 percent of their shots in that period, compared to 64 percent shooting by the Heat. And in the third, Chicago finally broke through.
The Bulls got their first lead when Deng hit a jumper with 2:45 left. It was Deng’s third basket in an 11-2 Chicago run to end the third quarter, and when Chris Duhon hit a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left, the Bulls had a 68-64 lead entering the fourth.
They didn’t trail again. And the so-called Baby Bulls—a young team that had endured two straight first-round ousters, including last year against Miami in six games—officially grew up.
“They showed signs of maturity,” said Wallace, who now gets to face his old team, the Pistons, with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals at stake. “I like to see that.”
Gary Payton, who didn’t play in Games 2 and 3 and logged 18 minutes Sunday, left without talking to reporters—meaning it’s unknown if he’s leaning toward retiring or returning for an 18th season. He turns 39 in July. … Heat backup center Alonzo Mourning said he will decide soon whether to return next season, and Wade said he hasn’t decided if he’ll need surgery to repair the left shoulder he dislocated in February or on playing for USA Basketball in Olympic qualifying this summer. … The Bulls beat Detroit in three of four meetings this season. … Posey replaced Jason Kapono as the starter at small forward for Miami; before Game 3, Kapono took the starter spot from Eddie Jones, who did not play in Game 4.