Everybody waited for LeBron James to take over Game 1 of the Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The game was surprisingly close. The Bulls were defending and rebounding the way you knew they would. The game was there to be won. The game was waiting for James.
And then Nate Robinson went all LeBron James on Miami.
The Bulls scorched the reigning champion and heavily favored Heat with a 24-10 run --- just strafed them --- and it was almost all Robinson. The littlest player on the court came up bigger than that James poster hanging outside the arena.
Witness this: In the last 6:22, Robinson scored 11 points and either scored or assisted on five of the Bulls’ last six baskets in the 93-86 win.
Yeah, he went all LeBron James on the Heat even after James landed on him diving for a loose ball and left Robinson with a lip laceration requiring 10 stitches. Itty-bitty Robinson has such a little back, but it was big enough to carry the Bulls after absorbing James.
This has been some stretch for Robinson, who needed a vomit bucket on the bench in the last series several days after a heroic performance in a triple-overtime win.
No matter. Robinson came back to start the second half Monday and was quick and clutch and under control – for Robinson. He can be aggravating at times, but say this for him: He’s not afraid to take the big shot and not afraid to win the game.
James, by comparison, never hit a shot from the floor down the stretch. It’s his Heat team and has been since last season. And he never made a basket in the last six minutes of a game his team was blowing.
James made three free throws and had one assist in the last six minutes. Worse, not only couldn’t James outscore Robinson, he couldn’t outscore Marco Belinelli or Jimmy Butler when the game was being decided.
It’s hard to believe Game 1 was decided in the Bulls’ favor after they committed 16 turnovers that led to 22 points. It’s hard to believe the game was even close. I mean, it looked like a suicide mission coming in, and now the Bulls were giving the Heat extra possessions.
But Tom Thibodeau’s teams defend and rebound. That’s his greatness as a coach. His teams are as relentless on the floor as he is on the sidelines.
Thibodeau’s teams also keep their poise. It’s such a cliché to say the Bulls are never out of a game, but the fact is, they don’t quit because they’ve been coached that way.
It’s only one win, and it might be the only one the Bulls get, but hey, it was a show, one that began with James accepting the MVP award and then getting pantsed by a guy smaller than the trophy he was holding.