The Chicago Bulls played without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Marco Belinelli, so it came as a complete surprise when they jumped out to an early lead against LeBron James and the Miami Heat and held off the best team in the NBA down the stretch to end Miami's historic winning streak at 27 games.
Elsewhere in the association, Kobe Bryant nailed a clutch jumper to help the Lakers escape in Minnesota, Jeff Green hit a game-winning layup to save the Celtics in Cleveland and the Spurs edged out the Nuggets.
Here's everything that happened on Wednesday night:
Bulls 101, Heat 97
LeBron James and the Miami Heat had not lost a game since Feb. 1, but the Chicago Bulls somehow put together a strong enough effort to end Miami's incredible winning streak at 27 games. LeBron scored 18 of his game-high 32 points in the first half and helped the Heat rally back from an early 40-27 deficit to take a 61-60 lead late in the third quarter, but the Bulls remained intense and focused throughout the contest.
Luol Deng led Chicago with 28 points on 10-22 shooting, while Carlos Boozer added an impressive 21 points and 17 rebounds and Jimmy Butler pitched in 17 points, five assists and four rebounds in the winning effort. The Bulls played a physical game with LeBron, which led to some frustration from LBJ late in the game. Heat blog Hot Hot Hoops has more:
In the fourth quarter, James was tired of taking some hard fouls, and gave a pre-meditated shoulder shot to Boozer that earned him a flagrant 1 foul.
They tried to come back but just didn't have enough. The margin of error was too small and a few missed shots/dunks and some questionable calls were enough to propel the Bulls to their most significant victory of the season.
For the Heat, it was 53 days since the streak began and 27 wins overall - good enough for second in NBA history. Miami has 11 games left in the regular season and needs just one win to clinch the Eastern Conference. They can now focus on rest, getting healthy, and preparing for the playoffs. All the hoopla about the streak should end soon.
LeBron expressed his frustration regarding the hard fouls from the Bulls after the game (via NBA.com):
"Kirk Hinrich basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. On the last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not basketball plays. It has been happening all year and I've been able to keep my cool, but it is getting to me a little bit," James said.
This GIF pretty much sums up the night for Miami, as the Bulls played a physical game and came out on top.
Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117
The Lakers have made their own path to the playoffs more difficult with recent losses to sub-par teams, and almost stumbled again Wednesday night in Minnesota. Eight of 10 Timberwolves players scored in double figures on the night, and Nikola Pekovic led the well-balanced attack with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but a big night from Kobe Bryant saved the Lakers in the end.
Kobe scored a game-high 31 points on 12-21 shooting and poured in 16 of those points during the third quarter to help keep the Lakers afloat. Dwight Howard added 25 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks, while Steve Nash dropped in 16 points on seven field goal attempts and Pau Gasol contributed 17 points and nine rebounds as the starting power forward.
Kobe nailed a clutch jumper with under a minute left to put the Lakers up, 116-111, and he even gave the finger wag to the Minnesota crowd.
As Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll points out, even that play didn't lead to a smooth ending for L.A.:
The game came down to Kobe watching his second of two free throws clunk off the rim. Then watching some more. Then watching. Then realizing it was going the other way and sprinting ahead to try and catch Rubio. He caught Rubio, probably fouled him as he shot up a prayer three, then ran to the tunnel not wanting to stick around to close out the game. A sloppy ending to a sloppy game but every now and then you just gotta eat a Sloppy Joe because that's all that's left in the cabinet.
Celtics 93, Cavaliers 92
The Celtics stared down their sixth-straight loss in Cleveland and used a game-winning layup from Jeff Green to avoid extending the slide. Green scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Brandon Bass scored 22 points and Paul Pierce added 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists although with seven turnovers.
It was a special night for Green because, as CelticsBlog notes, Dr. Lars Svenson of the Cleveland Clinic -- the doctor who performed heart surgery on Greene just more than a year ago -- was in attendance for the game.
Spurs 100, Nuggets 99
The Nuggets recent had their 15-game winning streak snapped, and now they are owners of (gulp) a two-game losing streak thanks to the San Antonio Spurs. All five Spurs starters scored in double figures and Tim Duncan led the way with 23 points and 14 rebounds as San Antonio overcame a 68-36 deficit for points in the paint and hit 10-15 threes -- including 6-8 for Danny Green -- to earn the win.
Denver charged back in the final minute with some clutch free throws from Danilo Gallinari, but Andre Miller came up empty on a driving layup at the end of regular and the team picked up a loss. Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs didn't mince words after the game in the recap:
Most of us recognize the depressing sound of an engine failing to start. It's that moment right before you are going to work for an important meeting, hurrying to catch a flight, or trying to escape a pursuing zombie horde. It never happens at the right time, and having the Nuggets' starters fail tonight was no different. Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari were flatter than the hardwood they played on. Even with a special night from the Nuggets bench, the Nuggets were unable to overcome the poor shooting of their key starters and another disastrous night defending the three. You're not going to win when the first made field goals of your three leading scorers don't occur until the third quarter, and definitely not when they're shooting 8-25 for the game. Oh, and the Nuggets once again failed to connect on a single three pointer (0-10) while letting the Spurs connect on 10 of theirs.
Marc Gasol returned from his abdominal tear injury but did not look right for most of the evening (13 points, five rebounds). The Knicks rained down hellfire from three-point range during the first half (11-of-21), and J.R. Smith dropped in 25 of his game-high 35 points over that span. New York used its 69-41 halftime as an excuse to cruise a bit in the second half but still emerged with the win despite 26 points from Mike Conley and 24 more from Jerryd Bayless.
It was a special first-half performance from the Knicks, and that was the focus at Posting and Toasting after the game:
Oh, that first half. There was as much joy packed into those opening quarters as anything we enjoyed in the Knicks' big wins over Miami and San Antonio earlier this season. The Grizzlies looked hungover, and that may have been precisely the case, but the Knicks were somewhere else entirely. They couldn't miss if they tried, and they did try. Like, Steve Novak launching a step-back 24-footer off a bootleg crossover dribble is testing the rim for sure, yet that preposterous three dropped right along with the rest of 'em.
The Pacers used 28 points and 13 rebounds from Roy Hibbert and 21 points on 14 shots from Lance Stephenson to scratch out a win over James Harden (22 points on 6-24 shooting, eight assists) and the Rockets.
76ers 100, Bucks 92
The Milwaukee Bucks came out completely flat against the Sixers, and after charging back in the third quarter to take their first lead since 2-0, the Bucks turned in a rough fourth quarter and ceded the game back to Philadelphia. Brandon Jennings failed to score a single point in 17 minutes, and he sat for the majority of the second half as Monta Ellis (29 points, seven assists) took over at point guard.
The Jazz kept pace with the Lakers by knocking off the hapless Suns at home. Gordon Hayward and Al Jefferson each scored a game-high 25 points as Utah outscored Phoenix 56-32 in the paint on the evening.
The Clippers shifted to the No. 3 spot in the West standings by taking down the Hornets with a strong fourth-quarter surge. L.A. didn't play a great game, but a 26-14 run to close out the contest in the final period was enough to get the job done. Blake Griffin led the way with 19 points, while rookie Anthony Davis added 19 points and nine rebounds for New Orleans. Eric Gordon led all scorers with 24 points against his former team.
John Wall did not have the same magic on Wednesday night. He went 3-18 from the field to follow up his amazing 47-point effort but, thanks to 12-15 free throws, still posted an impressive line: 18 points and 12 assists. The Thunder picked up their third straight win as Kevin Durant scored 20 points on 10 shots and Russell Westbrook added 21 points on just eight shots.
Just when you think the Warriors are starting to build momentum, they go and do something like this. Isaiah Thomas exploded for 31 points on 10-18 shooting and DeMarcus Cousins added 14 points and six rebounds as Golden State shot just 5-24 from beyond the arc and dropped a rough game at home.
Reggie Evans takeover! Evans scored 22 points and grabbed 26 rebounds, including 12 offensive boards, to complement the 28 points from Brook Lopez as the Nets scored 74 points in the paint and knocked off Portland in a fairly easy game. LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 24 points.
When the two worst teams in the NBA meet, somebody has to win.