Miami and Memphis are headed to the NBA conference finals after beating Chicago and Oklahoma City respectively on Wednesday to complete 4-1 series victories.
Miami’s LeBron James scored 23 points and Dwyane Wade added 18 for the Heat, which won a see-sawing game. The hosts led 22-4 but were then outscored by a whopping 29 points over the next 27 minutes before snatching back the initiative and scoing 25 points to 14 in the final quarter.
The Memphis Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history by beating Oklahoma City 88-84.
Memphis’ Chris Bosh scored 12 points and Udonis Haslem added 10 for the Heat, which will play the winner of the Indiana-New York series, which the Pacers lead 3-1.
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose for the 99th straight game. Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed potential tying 3-pointers on the final possession of the season for Chicago, which dropped the last four games of the series.
“We’re disappointed in losing the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I was never disappointed in our team. Our team fought hard all year long. There was no quit in them.”
A team that played without the 2011 NBA MVP in Rose, and dealt with a slew of other issues along the way, was within a couple shots from forcing the reigning champions to fly back to Chicago for a Game 6.
“We’ve got warriors here,” Boozer said. “If we’re healthy next season, we’re going to be pretty good.”
The Heat say they have more than a few of those warrior-types as well, including Wade, who has been battling bone bruising on his knee for weeks but was still a pivotal player in the fourth-quarter surge.
“I’ll go on and on about how great he is,” James said. “I really don’t care for the trash talk that he receives.”
Shane Battier opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to get Miami within five. Another 3-pointer from Battier came not long afterward, and he connected on a pair of free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try to cut Chicago’s lead to 81-79.
Norris Cole had a pair of baskets, the second being a left-handed driving dunk, to put Miami on top, and the Heat found a way to close it out from there, even though it wasn’t easy, by any measure.
Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1:43 left got the Bulls to 94-91. No one scored again, even though there were plenty of chances both ways.
“I had a good couple of minutes,” Wade said. “I knew they’ve seen a lot of LeBron and Norris. I knew they weren’t prepared for me to attack which is what I was able to do.”
The Heat will be big favorites against either Indiana or New York, though it’s certain either opponent would enter a series against Miami with plenty of confidence. The Knicks went 3-1 against the Heat this season, outscoring them by 11.5 points per game and winning both of their games at Miami convincingly. The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat, winning twice in Indianapolis and losing their lone game in Miami.
“It only gets more difficult and more challenging,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what competitors want.”
Memphis’ Zach Randolph had 28 points and 14 rebounds and Mike Conley added 13 points and 11 assists as the Grizzlies showed some trademark grit and grind to see off the Thunder.
“This is the first time, so it definitely means a lot. I’m happy, but we’ve still got work to do,” Randolph said. “I want to win a ring.”
The Grizzlies, who got swept out of the playoffs in their first three trips and had won just one postseason series before this season, have already made it farther than ever before but still aren’t satisfied.
“We’re trying to do something really special. We want to go as far as we can go,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “To get there, we had to get through Oklahoma City. And now, we have to get through either Golden State or San Antonio to get further.”
In a series filled with games that went down to the wire, the finale was fitting – even though the Thunder trailed by 12 with 3 minutes left.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant missed a 16-foot jumper from the left wing that would have tied the game with 6 seconds left, finishing off a miserable shooting night for the three-time NBA scoring champion. Durant ended up with 21 points on 5-for-21 shooting, the third-worst performance of his playoff career.
“I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out there on the floor,” Durant said. “I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting, I kept being aggressive. That’s all I can ask for.”
The Thunder, who made it to the NBA Finals last season, were top seeds in the West but went 2-6 after All-Star guard Russell Westbrook had knee surgery two games into the first round.
“I believe in our guys. I’m disappointed we didn’t win this series. I felt that we were good enough to win this series,” coach Scott Brooks said.
Serge Ibaka had 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 1:26 to play during a desperation comeback try for the Thunder. Reggie Jackson’s 3-pointer finished off the 16-6 rally, cutting the deficit to 86-84 with 14.3 seconds remaining.
Randolph missed both free throws with 11.3 seconds on the clock to give the Thunder one last chance to save their season. Durant got the ball beyond the 3-point line on the left wing and navigated around Tony Allen before missing the jumper.
“That’s the shot that we wanted. … That’s the shot I will live with 100 times out of 100 times,” Brooks said.
Allen got the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to close it out.