Trailing 86-83 with two minutes left, the Bulls scored the final 10 points of the game to beat the Heat once again.
Joakim Noah added 13 points, Taj Gibson had 12 and Marco Belinelli added 10 for Chicago, which snapped a 27-game Miami winning streak during the regular season, and handed the Heat their first loss in their last 13 games in this one.
LeBron James scored 24 points for Miami, which got 14 from Dwyane Wade.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.
The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, as they’ve been all season. Kirk Hinrich was out again with a calf injury. Luol Deng isn’t even expected to rejoin the team until Tuesday, after dealing with an illness apparently so severe that a spinal tap — and other tests since — were needed to rule out things like meningitis.
And the group that was left gave the reigning NBA champions more than they could handle.
A pair of three-point plays by James — one of them coming when he just broke through a tackle attempt by Butler and muscled the ball to the rim anyway — gave Miami a 76-69 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the biggest deficit Chicago faced all night.
The Bulls, predictably, were undeterred. Coming off a Game 7 road win in Brooklyn two nights earlier just to get into a series with Miami, the Bulls just kept grinding. When Ray Allen made a 3-pointer to give Miami an 80-78 lead, Butler came back with one of his own to put the Bulls back on top. When the Heat went up by three after James made a free throw with 2:22 left, Belinelli connected for 3 — on a second-effort possession — to knot the game.
Then when Robinson connected on a 20-footer with 1:18 left, the Bulls had the lead and plenty of swagger.
With good reason, too.
Wade missed a 3-pointer on the next possession, Robinson drove the lane and scored with 45.5 seconds left, and suddenly the Bulls were up 90-86 — rendered virtually the entire building silent.
James drove against Butler and tried a 12-footer that missed everything, the Bulls got the rebound, Robinson made a free throw to stretch the lead to five and the stunner was complete.
Game 1 to the Bulls. And with it, home-court advantage as well.
It was a night that started with a celebration and ended with Miami’s arena in silence.
James was honored before the game, with a brief on-court ceremony to commemorate his fourth NBA MVP award.
“Everybody here knows about the statistics,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “All I would like to add in presenting this trophy is that LeBron James exemplifies the values of our game. Teamwork, passion, a continued extraordinary desire to improve, and a state of excellence that is unmatched. So thank you LeBron James, for what you bring to our league.”
James picked up the trophy — he was actually presented with it Sunday — and made a slow circle with it aloft, as cheers rained down from the sold-out stands.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without these 14 guys here, our coaching staff and most of all you guys,” James said, speaking to the crowd. “This trophy is for you. So thank you so much, and let’s get ready to go.”
And with that, the game started.
Problem was, no one was ready to go.
The Heat missed their first seven shots — maybe rust from an eight-day layoff really was a factor — and Chicago led 21-15 after an opening quarter where Nazr Mohammed, he of the 2.6-point-per-game scoring average in this regular season, had as many points (two) as any Miami starter did.
A 10-0 Heat run in the second gave Miami a 25-23 lead, and the teams were tied at 37 at halftime.
The story at that point was James, who wore twice as many pairs of sneakers in the first half (two) as he had field goals (one). He had two points at the break, the lowest of his 120-game postseason career, on just 1-for-6 shooting. James started the game in sneakers that were MVP editions, then returned to his more customary style late in the first half.
He opened the second half with a 3-pointer, so the shoes were a quick fix.
But the Bulls were in for the long haul, and after James made the consecutive three-point plays to open a seven-point lead, Chicago answered with seven straight points, knotting the game at 76-all when Belinelli made a 3-pointer with just under five minutes left.
Momentum belonged to Chicago, and soon, so did the game.