Given two chances in the final 6.5 seconds to defeat the Bulls on Thursday night at the United Center, the Miami Heat knew precisely what it was doing the second time around.
Watching what the Bulls did not do defensively on Miami's previous inbounds play, the Heat was smarter when it got the ball again with 3.5 seconds left. This time when Shawn Marion inbounded the ball, he not only made sure to get it to Dwyane Wade, but Marion cut straight to the basket for a return pass and scored on a ridiculously easy game-winning slam when Tyrus Thomas moved up to cover Wade and left Marion open.
Looking for three quarters like they already had left for the All-Star break, the Bulls' 95-93 loss was still another lesson of the old too-little, too-late variety.
"You can't expect to play just one quarter well and beat Miami," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Still, the Bulls certainly made a game of it in the end after trailing by 11 to start the fourth quarter and by seven with 1 minute 12 seconds left.
Two free throws by Rose and a dunk by Tyrus Thomas pulled the Bulls within three with 35 seconds left.
After Wade missed a jumper with 13.9 seconds to go, Daequan Cook fouled Ben Gordon on a three-pointer and Gordon hit all three free throws to tie the game 93-93 with 6.5 seconds remaining.
The Bulls then set themselves up for a game-winning shot when Kirk Hinrich stole the subsequent inbounds pass from Marion to Wade. But the Bulls immediately returned the favor with 3.5 seconds left when Wade intercepted the inbounds from Thabo Sefolosha to Gordon, managing to call time out as he flew out of bounds.
On the final play, Wade said the same play had been set up on the previous inbounds when Hinrich stepped in for the steal.
The final time, Del Negro said: "We lost track of our man there trying to pay a lot of attention to Dwyane. Shawn sneaked in behind the inbounds guy. That hurts.
"Dwyane was under the basket, and it looked like they were going to try to lob it over Kirk, so Tyrus stepped back and tried to help Kirk. ... Tyrus lost vision a little bit. ... It was unfortunate."
Luol Deng was in the game for defense at the end and Derrick Rose on the bench. Deng was one of a few Bulls who could have helped out defensively on the final play.
"We had our chances," said Gordon, who finished with a game-high 34 points. "It's definitely heartbreaking."
The Bulls ran into a team that had lost five of its last seven, was hurt by nagging injuries and was plagued by slow starts and defensive lapses after a span in which it had won seven of nine.
But after taking its first lead 29-26 early in the second quarter, the Heat snapped out of the doldrums and proceeded to pick apart the Bulls inside offensively and on the boards, outscoring the Bulls 27-15 in the period.
Del Negro said 19 turnovers and an 11-6 Heat lead in second-chance points dug too big a hole.
"I liked the effort but we cannot afford to beat ourselves," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun