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O'Neal, Wade stifled, but Bulls can't finish
Luol Deng probably said something like that as he stood stunned and glassy-eyed for a few seconds after his 23-footer from deep in the left corner spun out to allow the Miami Heat to escape Saturday with an 85-84 victory over the Bulls at the United Center.
"It came down to the last shot," Deng said. "We just had to make that last shot. I got a great, wide-open look. I just didn't convert."
It perhaps symbolized this frustrating, oh-so-close Bulls season that has been filled with near misses. The Bulls outplayed the Heat, forcing Shaquille O'Neal into five turnovers and limiting him to 13 points and five rebounds with a swarming, collapsing defense. Potential league MVP Dwyane Wade made all 13 of his free throws but hit only 1 of 8 shots and had 10 turnovers in just 29 minutes.
"Frustrated, where did you get that from?" Wade said about a technical he was assessed for openly thanking the referees for making a foul call. "I knew it wasn't my [day] so I tried to make plays for my teammates to help us win, and we did a great job of getting stops down the stretch."
Once again, the Bulls' lack of an individual finisher came back to haunt them as Michael Sweetney made one of two free throws with 2 minutes 46 seconds left for their last point. Kirk Hinrich's three-pointer with just less than five minutes left was their last basket.
Down the stretch, the Bulls' Chris Duhon missed two shots, Deng had a turnover as he tried to squeeze the ball into Sweetney and Sweetney missed a short hook coming out of a timeout with 50.1 seconds left and the Bulls trailing 85-84.
Sweetney, who rarely has played in the last month, was surprised to get the call for the potential go-ahead basket.
"I was very surprised, but I have to be ready and produce," said Sweetney, who was called upon to help on O'Neal. "I had a good look."
Good looks don't matter when the game is ugly. The only point scored in the final 2:46 was Gary Payton's game-winning free throw with 2:16 left.
"We've had so many close games where we have not been able to make the big play at the end," Skiles said.
Saturday was particularly frustrating for the Bulls because they held the Heat to 32.4 percent shooting. The Bulls collapsed on O'Neal all day. The first three times he touched the ball led to turnovers, and eventually he was nailed for a flagrant foul for hammering Andres Nocioni, who had 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Deng led the team with 19 points and had 10 rebounds.
"When those three [referees] were at the scorer's table, I knew it was going to be an ugly game," O'Neal said. "Ugly people call ugly games."
There was good and bad for the Bulls.
"We did a way above-average job on Shaq and Dwyane," Skiles said. "We did not make our free throws (9 of 17) and there were just an awful lot of odd plays."