The Chicago Bulls pulled off a stunner on Monday night, defeating the Miami Heat, 93-86, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson were positively huge for the Bulls, as Tom Thibodeau's bunch proved that the Heat won't simply be able to coast into the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite LeBron James scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Heat were not able to come up with clutch stops or buckets, and the Bulls took advantage.
Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points on 50-percent shooting (3-of-8 from three), while Noah and Butler combined to score 34 points and pull down 25 rebounds.
In the end, the Heat did not waltz to a series-opening victory the way many supposed they would, as Game 1 turned into an ugly and physical affair.
An uncharacteristically sloppy first half saw Miami shoot 33.3 percent from the field (including just 40 percent from the restricted area).
The Bulls flashed their trademark grittiness throughout and refused to die, as their collection of role players pushed the Heat to the limit.
James received his fourth-career MVP award prior to the game, but was not in peak form in the series opener. He didn't record his first bucket until the five-minute mark in the first quarter and shot 47 percent from the field on the night.
In total, James finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in 44 minutes.
Dwyane Wade, who sat out Game 4 last series against the Milwaukee Bucks to rest his sore knee, appeared fresh Monday night, but made some questionable decisions in crunch time.
Combined, Wade and Chris Bosh scored 23 points on a weak 10-of-26 shooting.
The Heat were forced to play at Chicago's pace and were limited in transition by the stingy Bulls defense, scoring just nine points on the fast break.
Another positive sign for the Bulls is that they were effectively able to use the size of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson to their advantage, outscoring the undersized Heat, 40-32, in the paint.
The Bulls also out-rebounded the Heat, 46-32, hammering the frontcourt of Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Bosh on the glass.
Game 2 will tip off on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in Miami.
Here's James receiving his fourth MVP trophy. There will almost certainly be more to come.
Robinson, whom the Bulls will continue to rely on to shoulder a sizable chunk of the offensive burden, opened the game 0-of-4 from the field.
James, Wade and Bosh were not active offensively in the early going.
If you enjoy defense, the first quarter of Game 1 was for you.
Despite having an eight-day layoff, the Heat looked rather lethargic.
The Heat applied defensive pressure in the second quarter, forcing the Bulls into a number of turnovers.
In case you hadn't noticed, the Bulls have perfected the art of mucking up a game.
Entering the fourth quarter, James had scored just nine points. Talk about a statistical anomaly. Credit Butler with some spectacular defense, too.
Butler played all 48 minutes in Game 1, just as he did in Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets.