When Ronnie Brewer made a 3-pointer with three minutes and 53 seconds left to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls had a 76-64 lead. The Miami Heat -- and Dwyane Wade in particular --had not played well throughout the entire game. But Wade and LeBron James refused to let the series go back to Miami for Game 6.
Wade had ice on his left shoulder before tip-off and committed nine turnovers in the game. But the 2006 NBA Finals MVP made two straight field goals to cut the deficit to 69-77 with fewer than three minutes left to go. On Miami’s ensuing possession, James sunk a cold-blooded 3 off a pass from Wade. It was 77-72 with a little more than two minutes left, and the Bulls fans in the United Center grew a little restless.
Coming out of a timeout, Derrick Rose made a nice move to create space from James and put Chicago up 79-72 with just 106 seconds left. The other Chicago native on the court connected on a four-point play that trimmed the Heat deficit to just 76-79, though. Rose came up empty on the other side of the court, and James made a quick 3 to tie the game.
After Game 4, Rose spoke about how the 6-foot-8 two-time MVP could easily guard him. Some pundits viewed that statement as an admission of defeat; did Michael Jordan ever say somebody could easily guard him? But James used his enormous wingspan to deflect a Rose pass, giving the Heat possession. The Akron, Ohio native then dribbled down the clock and nailed a jumper at the top of the key. The Heat had the lead for the first time since the first quarter at 81-79.
Rose went right at James to draw a foul, but the 22-year-old missed the second free throw, with Chris Bosh securing the board. Coming out of the in-bounds ball, the Heat sliced time off the clock before getting the ball to Bosh, an 82 percent foul shooter. He sunk both, but the Bulls still had a ray of hope with 16.8 seconds left.
What followed was another beautiful display of defense from the Heat. Miami trapped Kyle Korver well beyond the 3-point line, forcing him to give up the ball. Rose tried to get a good look, but Udonis Haslem was right in front of him to contest the shot. As the 2011 MVP released the ball, the former two-time MVP swatted it away.
This game was pretty tough to watch, but those last three minutes were amazing. Remember when people said the Heat couldn’t win close games? Now Chicago couldn’t even win a game at home when the MVP, Coach of the Year and Co-Executive of the Year had a 12-point lead with fewer than four minutes left. Wade and James simply took control of the game.
This team has progressed quite a bit just in the latter half of the season. Miami couldn’t close out a series on the road as recently as in the first round against Philadelphia, but won two games in Chicago in the Conference Finals. Remember when people said that the season was lost amid Crygate and the five-game losing streak?
The Heat will begin the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks May 31. Continue to check out Hot Hot Hoops for in-depth coverage of the 2006 Finals re-match.