The Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies wrapped up their National Basketball Association playoff series in five games and advanced to the conference finals.
The Heat topped the visiting Chicago Bulls 94-91 last night to reach the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers or New York Knicks. The Grizzlies beat the host Oklahoma City Thunder 88-84 to and will face the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
“Each round gets tougher,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in a news conference. “We were challenged in this series. We can expect it only to get more difficult.”
In tonight’s games, the Pacers can wrap up their best-of-seven second-round series with a win at the Knicks and the Spurs can knock out the host Warriors. The Pacers lead their series 3-1, while San Antonio is up 3-2.
LeBron James scored 23 points for Miami and Dwyane Wade, playing with a sore knee that was re-taped before the final quarter, added 18 for the Heat -- who dropped the first game and then won the next four against the Bulls.
“We gave everything we had,” James said in a televised interview. “It’s tough to beat a team four times.”
Miami scored the first 10 points of the game and opened an 18-2 lead en route to a 30-21 lead at the end of the first quarter, only to have Chicago respond by outscoring the hosts 32-17 in the second quarter for a six-point halftime lead.
Chicago led 77-69 entering the fourth quarter. Shane Battier had eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Heat opened the period with a 20-7 run to take the lead for good.
“Mentally, we had to not get too high, not get too low,” James said of the roller-coaster game.
Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 26 points and 14 rebounds and Nate Robinson contributed 21 points.
“We’re a young team,” said Joakim Noah, who scored three points. “Someday we’ll get our shot.”
Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich missed his seventh straight game with a bruised calf and forward Luol Deng was sidelined for the sixth consecutive game with an undiagnosed illness. Former Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose has not played all season for Chicago while recovering from knee surgery.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in losing the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I was never disappointed in our team. If everyone comes back healthy, we’ll have quality depth. We have to add the right type of guys, but we’re optimistic. We can’t hope for it, we have to make it happen.”
At Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Zach Randolph had 28 points and 14 rebounds and Mike Conley added 13 points and 11 assists for the Grizzlies, who outscored the Thunder 32-15 in the second quarter to hold a 50-38 halftime lead before Oklahoma City came back within two, 64-62, going into the final quarter.
Kevin Durant scored 21 points for the Thunder and Serge Ibaka contributed 17 points before fouling out with 85 seconds remaining.