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No matter the opponent, no matter the stakes, the Bulls always come back. They are never intimidated by deficits that balloon like gas prices.
Monday night, when 20,214 crazed Heat fans took a victory for grantedand no one could blame them with the Heat leading by 20Kirk Hinrich began to will the Bulls back in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
But Dwyane Wade and Co. took it all awayagain.
The Heat dropped the Bulls 115-108 at AmericanAirlines Arena to open a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"You could say we made some shots, but the bottom line is we just have to do a better job," Hinrich said.
The Bulls return home for Game 3 Thursday night at the United Center. Though they finished the regular season strongly at home, the Bulls often were suspect there.
"At home we've played very bad," Andres Nocioni said before Monday's game. "That's the reality. We finished good, but we had problems at home."
Nocioni and Hinrich carried the Bulls, with Ben Gordon shut down by Gary Payton and Wade. Gordon scored 13 points, two days after scoring 35 in Game 1. Nocioni led this time with 30 points and Hinrich had 29, including 17 in the fourth quarter.
Nocioni hit a three-pointer over the Heat's Antoine Walker with 1 minute 15 seconds left in regulation to cut the Bulls' deficit to four points.
Just like in Game 1, Wade sank the Bulls' hopes at the finish. Seconds later, he dribbled around Hinrich with a slick turnaround move to avoid Chris Duhon, who was collapsing on him. Wade swished the shot and gave the Heat a six-point lead.
On the Bulls' next possession, Duhon got the ball to Nocioni inside, but Nocioni was off-balance and threw the ball away to Payton.
The game was all but over.
"It was a game where all of our perimeter guys seemed to be unsure," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.
Wade finished with 21 points.
"I thought I did pretty good," he said.
Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Williams each scored 22 for the Heat. O'Neal's monster jams helped bury the Bulls through three quarters.
After Heat coach Pat Riley said he was concerned Wade might cramp up as he did in Game 1, word trickled through the arena that Wade might not be at 100 percent.
Skiles wasn't buying it.
"A lot of times people just say that so they can appear to be courageous when they do play," he said. "Whether Dwyane is doing that or not ... I would never accuse him of that, but I know teams routinely can talk about their guy being injured and then the guy goes out and doesn't look injured at all. So I wouldn't put a lot of stock into it."
Wade looked every bit the amazing player he is.
After Williams made a layup with 1.2 seconds left in the first half, Wade stole an inbounds pass from Michael Sweetney and thrilled the crowd with a jam as the halftime buzzer sounded. Officials reviewed the play, but Wade had nailed it.
"That's two first halves in a row ... where we've come unglued," Skiles said.
Losing Udonis Haslem, who was suspended for Game 2 because of his ejection Saturday for throwing his mouthpiece toward referee Joey Crawford in disgust, didn't bother the Heat at all. His replacement, James Posey, scored 12.
The Bulls ended up shooting a respectable 53.2 percent from the field, but Miami shot 52.4 percent, surpassing the Bulls' regular-season opponent high of 51.5 percent against Portland in November. Their top-notch defensive field-goal percentage is fading fast even as their offense improves.
"We were down four with the ball with over a minute left," Duhon said.
"Any team would want to be in that type of situation. We just have to execute and get shots at the basket."
There's never a doubt the Bulls will put up a fight, but there's no comfort in that because lately they can't win one.