Shaq and Miami Slowed By Bulls and Refs

CHICAGO (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal's words were sharp and pointed and aimed straight at his target, like those passes he whips to cutters when he is double-teamed.

His target this time was referee Eddie F. Rush.

"My intention was to come out and be myself, until Eddie Rush derailed me," O'Neal said after fouling out.

Chicago's Luol Deng also played a big part in knocking defending champion Miami off track. So did Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni.

Deng scored 33 points, Gordon and Nocioni each hit two free throws in the final 19 seconds, and the Chicago Bulls held off the Heat 96-91 Saturday in Game 1 of their opening-round rematch.

"This game was really big," Deng said. "Now that we have the lead, most of the time the team that loses has to adjust. We did a lot of things today that worked for us."

The Heat trailed 92-91 after Dwyane Wade found Udonis Haslem for a layup with 38 seconds left, but Gordon hit two foul shots with 18 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Wade missed a 3-pointer and Nocioni hit two more free throws with 9.8 seconds left for the final score.

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Chicago.

The Heat beat the Bulls in six emotional games last year on the way to the championship, but injuries limited them to 44 wins during the regular season. Still, this looked like a difficult matchup for a Bulls team that dropped from the second seed to fifth in the Eastern Conference when it lost the finale to New Jersey.

Wade missed 23 games late in the season with a dislocated left shoulder and struggled through three quarters. He scored nine in the fourth and finished with 21, while O'Neal had 19 points before fouling out with 3:19 left.

He accused the Bulls of flopping and said they had "lot of help out there."

"It's just unfortunate that people fall for that," said O'Neal, who scored 10 points in the first quarter before the fouls piled up. "I'm used to just outplaying somebody and just playing hard, but I guess that's what you got to do to stop Shaq."

Miami Heat's players watch their teammates play against Chicago Bulls, including Shaquille O'Neal, third from right, during the third quarter in their first round NBA playoff basketball game in Chicago, Saturday, April 21, 2007. The Bulls won the game, 96-91.

Deng, who enjoyed a breakout season but had struggled against the Heat, made it look easy this time, hitting 14 of 22 shots. Gordon chipped in with 24 points and a career-high 11 assists, and Nocioni scored 17 points.

That was enough to offset a rough outing by Kirk Hinrich, who finished with two points and had five fouls. With Hinrich in foul trouble, Thabo Sefolosha guarded Wade and held him to 3-of-10 shooting through three quarters.

"More and more as we're going through the playoffs, I'll continue to see my confidence come back in my game," Wade said. "There's stuff I want to do that I'm not able to do, but I'll continue to work on it before and after practice."

The Bulls appeared to be in control late in the third quarter. Tyrus Thomas blocked consecutive shots by Gary Payton and Antoine Walker (20 points), then broke the other way for an alley-oop dunk that made it 70-59. That brought the fans to their feet and sent Miami into a timeout. Gordon's 19-foot jumper made it 72-59 with 38 seconds left in the quarter.

O'Neal and Wade headed to the sideline with their fifth fouls about 3 1/2 minutes into the fourth, but the Heat refused to go away. They were within 78-76 after two free throws by Walker.

Miami's superstars checked in with 4:58 remaining and the Bulls ahead by three. Nocioni's 3-pointer made it 84-76 with 4:24 left, and when he drove the lane and got fouled by O'Neal with 3:19 remaining, things were really looking good for the Bulls.

O'Neal left the game, Nocioni hit the free throw to complete the three-point play, and the lead was 87-79.

"I thought I was just standing there," O'Neal said. "Even if I did have part of the back of my foot on the line, they couldn't make the call watching two things at once. The inconsistency is just very frustrating."

Nocioni fed Deng on a 2-on-1 for a three-point play that made it 92-83 with 1:51 left, before the Heat made another run.

"I thought we did a good job of taking their best shot and sticking with it," Gordon said.

A few hard fouls aside, the only shots in this game were jumpers, drives and free throws. There was none of the hostility that has marked Bulls-Heat games in recent years.

James Posey did not knock down Hinrich in the open court as he did in Game 3 last year, resulting in a one-game suspension. Nor did he take down Deng from behind as he did in December, in a game Wade left with a sprained wrist after Hinrich tugged on his arm.

Wade guarded Deng early on Saturday, with others pitching in. No one had much luck, though.

It was a sharp contrast from the regular season, when Deng had two eight-point games against Miami.

"I knew I didn't do well against them," he said. "I had to look at the tape and see what they were doing. We did a really good job of moving the ball."

Notes

Gordon's previous high was nine assists. ... Posey got a technical with 3:28 left in the second quarter. ... Hinrich threw his mouthpiece and got a technical after picking up his fourth foul a minute into the third.

Updated on Saturday, Apr 21, 2007 7:55 pm EDT


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