The two time MVP LeBron James held the reigning MVP Derrick Rose in check, as the Miami Heat escaped with a 97-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday.
Before the game, Rose said it was just another date on the schedule. Afterwards, the league’s MVP fought back tears of frustration, as Miami went one-up in the four-game season series between the Eastern Conference rivals. The Heat have been a thorn in Rose’s side since last season. Miami failed to defeat Chicago during the last regular season, but have now won five in a row against the Bulls, including the last four games in the Eastern Conference finals. In the series, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra put James on Rose when no else could stop the Bulls point guard. LeBron effectively shut down D. Rose, and without his lockdown defense, that series might have had a different outcome. But, with the reigning MVP surging late in Sunday’s game at American Airlines Arena, Spoelstra once again assigned James to Rose, and once again ‘Bron was able to slow him down.
Rose went off for six points and two assists in a two-and-half minute stretch early in the fourth quarter. With James on Rose for the final six minutes of the game, Rose managed only three points and one assist. After a pair of Miami 3-pointers began the fourth quarter, Chicago went on a 13-2 run. Rose sparked the stretch with a pair of assists and two free throws, then finished it with a floating 10-foot jumper and a knifing up-and-under layup against the Heat’s interior defense that tied the score at 84 apiece with 6:55 left. That’s when LeBron clamped down. Rose is most effective when he gets into the lane, either bulling his way to the basket or connecting on off-balance teardrops, but James used his length and quickness to stay in front of Rose and prohibit him from penetrating. The Heat went on a 10-2 run of their own, as Rose became frustrated with James suffocating defense. He settled for two 3-pointers and went three minutes without attempting a shot. Rose’s only points in the final six minutes came when he made a layup, drew a foul on Miami’s Mario Chalmers (five points), and hit the ensuing free throws with 49.1 seconds left cutting the deficit to one, 94-93.
Both players carried their teams to the final moments, but then both players lost their cool in the clutch. James, who is often criticized for his inability in the waning moments of games, was called for a traveling violation and put up an ill-advised shot in isolation, that helped the Bulls late charge. Rose penetrated but lost the ball and recovered it before drawing contact from Miami’s Udonis Haslem (four points, nine rebounds) for the foul. With the game on the line and a chance to give Chicago their first lead, Rose missed the pair of free throws. His first attempt hit the front of the rim and his second rimmed out with 22.7 seconds left. James grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Noah. Not to be out done, James walked to the other end of the court, and to the chagrin on the Heat crowd, missed both free throws himself, leaving Miami with still only a one-point advantage, 94-93. An inadvertent whistle after James’ second miss eventually gave the ball back to the Heat after ‘Bron won a tip ball at mid-court against Bulls’ Taj Gibson (eight points). Chalmers made 1-of-2 free throws, setting up a dramatic finish.
Chicago wound up getting one last chance with 9.9 seconds remaining in the game. Out of a timeout, the ball went to Rose, who was guarded by James. A screen on James by the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer gave D. Rose just enough space to make a cut towards the basket but Haslem slid over and provided support. Rose pivoted, looked to pass, then faded away from a contesting James and front rimmed the shot. Chris Bosh, who slipped at the beginning of the play during the Bulls’ pick and roll, recovered in time to grab the game’s final rebound. Bosh was fouled by Boozer and converted a pair of free throws to seal the Heat victory, 97-93.
The game was tied four times, but Chicago never took the lead. James finished with 35 points, including nine in the fourth quarter –and the dunk of the year thus far, when he leaped over the 5’11” John Lucas for a one-handed alley-oop dunk, on the baseline, from Dwyane Wade in the opening minutes– 11 rebounds and five assists, but also he committed six turnovers. Bosh scored 24 points and added 12 rebounds for Miami. Wade, who played in his second game since returning from a sprained ankle, was 4-of-16 from the field but made 7-of-10 free throws to finish with 15 points and seven assists to help pull the Heat (15-5) within one game of the Bulls (17-5) in the East. The Heat will face the New Orleans Hornets on Monday.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rose is the first player to score 30 points against the Heat this season. He finished with 34 points, six rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block. The reigning MVP kept his team in the game, despite the absence of start Luol Deng, but couldn’t deliver when it mattered. His pair of missed free throws in the end snapped his string of fourth-quarter free-throw perfection. Prior to those misses, Rose was 29-of-29 from the foul line in the fourth this season. Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah each scored 11 for the Bulls and Ronnie Brewer and Boozer both contributed 10 points apiece. Chicago will look to bounce back on Monday when they head to Washington to face the Wizards.