CHICAGO (AP) — The streak is over. The big prize is still out there.
That’s what mattered most to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The Heat’s bid for NBA history ended Wednesday night when their 27-game winning streak was snapped by the Chicago Bulls 101-97, setting off a raucous celebration inside United Center. Miami finished six shy of the 33-game record held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
With 11 games remaining, there’s no time for Miami to take another shot at the record. A big run in the postseason would seem to be a sure bet.
After all, that’s what it’s about for the Heat. It’s been that way ever since James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in the summer of 2010.
They delivered last season, capturing a championship, and are eyeing a repeat.
The record? It would have been a bonus.
What stood out about the streak?
“I just think the way we compete,” James said. “How we are on and off the floor. … Ultimately, we want to win the NBA championship.”
The streak that began on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, came to an end despite his best efforts.
James tried to spur yet another comeback in the final minutes, getting mad after a rough foul. But the reigning MVP could never get the defending champions even, much less ahead, down the stretch.
Luol Deng scored 28 points, Carlos Boozer added 21 points and 17 rebounds, and the Bulls brought the Heat’s run to a screeching halt.
Miami’s superstar did all he could to keep it going, scoring 32 points and even collecting a flagrant foul during a physical final few minutes.
“We haven’t had a chance to really have a moment to know what we just did,” James said. “We had a moment, just very fortunate, very humbling and blessed to be part of this team and be part of a streak like that.”
The Heat hadn’t lost since the Pacers beat them in Indianapolis on Feb. 1. But after grinding out some close wins lately, including a rally from 27 down in Cleveland, no one counted them out until the final buzzer.
For the better part of two months, they were the NBA’s comeback kings. They erased seven double-digit deficits during the streak. They found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter 11 times, and won them all.
“We understand, probably more so later on in our careers, the significance of that. And then that was it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We took that moment to acknowledge it, to acknowledge each other, that experience, but it was never about the streak. We have a bigger goal, but also right now, it’s about ‘Are we getting better?'”
They walked off the floor stoically, not exchanging handshakes or pleasantries with the Bulls. James slapped high-fives with a couple teammates and coaches, then glared at a fan who touched his head as he walked toward the tunnel leading to the visitors’ locker room.
James was frustrated on the court at times, and showed more of the same in the locker room afterward with regard to how he’s officiated.
He cited two instances from Wednesday — a play in which Kirk Hinrich took him down with two hands in the first quarter, and Taj Gibson appearing to hit him around his neck with about 4 minutes remaining — where he thought the contact was excessive. Referees reviewed the Gibson hit, but did not award a flagrant foul. So, seconds later, James tried to barrel through Carlos Boozer on a screen, and got called for a Flagrant 1 himself.
“Those are not basketball plays and it’s been happening all year,” James said. “I’ve been able to keep my cool and try to tell Spo, ‘Let’s not worry about it too much,’ but it is getting to me a little bit.”
The Bulls, meanwhile, whooped and slapped hands with anyone they could reach after clinching a playoff berth.
“It’s a five-second moment of reflection before we move on to the rest of the season,” Wade said. “In here, it didn’t feel like we were on this amazing streak.”
What a run it was, though.
It will go down as the second-longest winning streak in the history of American major pro sports. And some of those Lakers believed their time would pass as Miami’s streak rolled along, with Jerry West among those saying that he believed the reigning champions had a real shot at pulling it off.
The streak began in Toronto, a day when Heat players were mildly annoyed about having to miss the NFL title game. When San Francisco and Baltimore were to be playing, the Heat were to be flying home for a game the following night.
So team officials team changed course, as a surprise.
Miami beat the Raptors that afternoon, then stayed in the city several more hours to watch the Super Bowl together, an event highlighted by Shane Battier giving an unplanned speech about appreciating little moments as a team.
For whatever reason, the Heat were unbeatable for nearly the next two months.
And they won games in a number of different ways.