The two-on-two in the final minute and a half featured the top scorer of the game adding seven points to finish with 27 points, and his sidekick from Marquette playing lock down defense to finish a 21-point, 14-rebound performance. That sounded like the seemingly invincible LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but they were the losing duo that was unable to score against the winning duo – Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler.
The depleted Bulls shocked the Miami Heat in the game one of the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Monday 93-86.
Both Bulls were reserves until a rash of injuries forced them into starting roles. An NBA executive told me a year ago that Butler, who received no Division 1 offers out of high school, had shocked teams with his dominance in camps and would soon be an NBA starter. He did not tell me he thought Butler would outduel James in a NBA playoff game. Robinson came back from 10 stitches to dominate down the stretch for the short-handed Bulls team that ended the Heat’s winning streak and beat them in Miami this season.
In the last 44 games, the Heat is now 41-1 against the rest of the league.
With 1:30 left to play it was 86-86 and Robinson, the smallest player in the league, found a spot 19 feet from the basket to give the Bulls a stunning 88-86 lead with 1:17 to play. After a timeout, Wade moved down the court and Robinson locked up on him one-on-one. Wade could not find and opening, finally settling for a 25-foot jumper that was off.
Joakim Noah, fresh off predicting the stunning upset in Brooklyn two nights ago, grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Robinson. Noah then set a pick on the other end to get Wade off Robinson and leave him with the slower Ray Allen. Robinson waved everyone away and then easily drove past Allen to lay it in for a 90-86 lead with 45 seconds to play.
No problem, get the ball to James. The problem for him was that Butler guarded him so tough that by the time James faded away from the left of the basket, his 11-foot jumper was well long for an airball. Butler, who the Nets Deron Williams credited this weekend for stopping him from getting to the basket, became the first player in eight years to play three straight NBA playoff games without sitting on the bench once.
Butler even buried a three-pointer in the corner with fellow Marquette grad Wade in his face.
Robinson hit one of two free throws to make it 91-86 with 24 seconds left, and the ball went back to the King again. James simply pulled up from 25 feet out, and Butler even ran back to grab his 14th rebound himself, then got it to Robinson, who was fouled and made both free throws to provide the 93-86 margin.