Moments after the Miami Heat left the United Center court losers for the first time since Super Bowl Sunday, they reflected on the 27-game winning they had just accomplished then the mood turned sour when LeBron dished out his frustration over what he calls non-basketball plays against him.
The Bulls roughed up LeBron in a 101-97 win that ended the Heat’s historic streak, which fell six short of the 33-game record set by the 1971-72 Lakers. It was a game that had playoff intensity and the physical nature of the game brought back memories of the wrestling matches that were prevalent in the 1980s.
So, what is it about the Bulls who always seem to give the Heat a run for their money?
“I don’t know if I like that question,” James said. “We hear that a lot, the Miami Heat didn’t make it tough on other teams. It’s always the Bulls, or Pacers, or the Knicks or whatever the case may be. Teams make it tough on us, we make it tough on them.
“When you have two well-coached teams it’ll make it a competitive game. That’s what it is all about.”
James may downplay the Heat-Bulls rivalry, but the hatred is there. Bulls center Joakim Noah calls LeBron his “enemy” and LeBron admits he has a “history” with Noah, going back to his days in Cleveland. The Bulls’ calling card is defense and toughness, and they play to their strengths each and every night. On Wednesday night, the plan was to pound the Heat on the boards and don’t let them get out in transition.
James understands that teams will always try to pound the Heat inside because that is their perceived weakness. But what he doesn’t like is the borderline dirty plays that the Bulls and other teams employ to get an edge. James specifically pointed out two plays that infuriated him: the tackle by Kirk Hinrich in the first half to prevent his break-away layup and the WWE-style takedown by Taj Gibson in the second half that sent him to the floor hard.
“A lot of [the fouls on me] are not basketball plays. Kirk Hinrich basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground,” James said of the Bulls guard, who has a reputation for being a pest on defense.
By the letter of the NBA law, Hinrich made no effort to go for the ball on James’ drive. It was a flagrant foul deserves a fine. Hinrich would have been better off just staying stationary and take the charging call. Instead, he clearly pulled down LeBron and the Heat star had every right to be upset.
The final straw for LeBron came in the fourth quarter when Gibson smacked him above the shoulder (a flagrant foul if you go by the letter of the NBA law) to prevent a dunk.
“He was able to collar me on my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not basketball plays,”LeBron said of Gibson’s hard foul, which was originally called a flagrant 1 but when officials reviewed the play it was downgraded to a regular foul which infuriated the Heat.
“I’ve been able to keep my cool and tell [Coach Erik Spoelstra] let’s not worry about it too much. But it is getting to me a little bit,” said James, whose frustration boiled over with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter when he lowered his shoulder and unloaded a blow to Carlos Boozer while trying to get over a screen. James was handed a flagrant 1, but he didn’t care. He had enough.
“Every time I try to defend myself I face the consequence of a flagrant on me or a technical foul. It’s tough,” James said. “I play the game with a lot of aggression, I understand the [hard fouls]. But it’s frustrating.”