MIAMI -- A fast start and faster finish were enough to send the Miami Heat back to the Eastern Conference finals.
LeBron James scored 23 points, Dwyane Wade added 18 and the Heat rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls 94-91 on Wednesday night and close out their second-round series in five games.
Chris Bosh scored 12 points and Udonis Haslem added 10 for Miami, which ran out to a 22-4 lead, then was outscored by a whopping 29 points over the next 27 minutes before recovering. The Heat outscored the Bulls 25-14 in the fourth.
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose for the 99th straight game. Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed potential tying 3-pointers on the final possession of the season for Chicago, which dropped the last four games of the series.
Robinson scored 21 points, Butler had 19, and Richard Hamilton 15 for the Bulls.
And there was drama, all the way to the end.
Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1:43 left got the Bulls to 94-91, and Butler knocked the ball away from Chris Bosh for a turnover on the ensuing Miami possession. But Boozer missed an open 15-footer with about a minute remaining and, when Wade knocked the ball off Boozer’s leg after a Miami miss with 45 seconds left, the Heat retained possession -- with a fresh shot clock to boot.
But Miami didn’t score, and the Bulls had a final chance.
Time expired, and the Heat lingered on the court in celebration. Wade held on to the game ball as he shook a few fans’ hands, and he, James and Bosh exchanged some high-fives -- the last three Miami players to leave the floor.
Shane Battier opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to get Miami within five. Another 3-pointer from Battier -- over Boozer, his fellow Duke alum -- came not long afterward, and he connected on a pair of free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try to cut Chicago’s lead to 81-79.
Norris Cole had a pair of baskets, the second being a left-handed driving dunk, to put Miami on top, and the Heat found a way to close it out from there.
Miami will open the East finals at home next week, and it’ll be a playoff rematch from its march to the title last season. If Indiana beats New York -- the Pacers lead that series 3-1 -- on Thursday, then the Heat and Pacers will meet for Game 1 in Miami on Monday night. If the Knicks extend the Pacers to at least six games, then the East finals would open Wednesday night, regardless of opponent.