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Bulls beating Heat in OT is nice, but playoff victory would be sweeter

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Updated: March 9, 2014 10:43PM



Primal screams from Joakim Noah, double technicals for LeBron James and Jimmy Butler, hard fouls — just another Heat-Bulls game on a Sunday afternoon.

And while the Bulls’ 95-88 overtime victory was a huge boost for a team that has been overachieving since losing Derrick Rose for the season, then trading Luol Deng, it’s not about March for these teams; it’s about May.

The Heat has knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs two of the last three years. That wasn’t lost in the home locker room at the United Center.

“It gives us confidence that we can beat them, but we have to do it in the playoffs,’’ Butler said. “Like [coach Tom Thibodeau] says, you can’t go around them, you have to go through them.’’

For one afternoon, the Bulls (35-28) went through the back-to-back defending champion, rallying from 11 down in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime.

“I’m not going to say it’s meaningless, but it’s tough because every time we get to the postseason, we just have so many different injuries,’’ Taj Gibson said. “We never have our full team. Minus that first year [against the Heat in the 2010-11 playoffs] when we had a good shot, we haven’t had our full team. But everything counts. Nothing is given.

“What I see is, they still have what we want. They’re in front of us. Until we can prove that we can do it in the postseason, that’s where the money is at.’’

And no team has “the money,’’ the rings and the swagger of the Heat (43-17).

“That’s what this league is about,’’ Gibson said. “Going out there and going after the champs.

“You see those uniforms; you know the names on them. You see them, you see everything we want. Yeah, there’s that hate, but we need to take what’s in front of us.’’

That’s why when Butler and James got “tangled’’ up on the floor in the second quarter, exchanging some knees and forearms, technicals were handed out.

“I just felt like two competitors were down there,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Whatever happened, happened, but I don’t back down. Let’s put it like that. I’m mad I got another [technical]. I don’t get techs; write that down.’’

Butler wasn’t done irritating James.

After Kirk Hinrich tied the game with 20.1 seconds left in regulation, the Heat had one last possession and the ball in James’ hands. The four-time MVP drove to the hoop and appeared to have a step on Butler, but Butler poked the ball out, sending the game to overtime.

“Effort,’’ Butler said. ‘‘That’s what a lot of defense is — the want-to and the will to fight through a screen, never give up on a play. That’s what I did.’’

D.J. Augustin made a three-pointer to start the overtime, then Butler hit a key jumper. The Heat never recovered, getting outscored 9-2.

Noah had 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks, but it was Butler’s 47-plus minutes of holding James to 17 points, and even guarding Dwyane Wade at times, that Thibodeau singled out.

“[Butler is] such a tough matchup,’’ Thibodeau said. “Jimmy guards everyone, and he makes them work. He’s a catalyst; he makes things happen for our team.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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