MIAMI — You can place Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich in sharp-looking suits on the bench. You can keep Luol Deng in Chicago as he recovers from a spinal tap.
Carlos Boozer can be largely ineffective, Nate Robinson can leave briefly with a bloody lip that needed 10 stitches to close and Marco Belinelli’s jumper can be AWOL until it’s needed most.
But as long as the Bulls have five bodies left, the competitive culture that coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled and his players execute will lead to what happened Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Bulls grabbed Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, downing a Heat team that had won 41 of its previous 43 games 93-86. And they shouted to the mountaintops one more time for anyone who stopped listening: They’re not going away quietly.
“We’re just out there having fun,” Robinson said. “We’re playing for each other and the city of Chicago. Nobody has us winning any games. I heard somebody say we’re going to get swept. We’re going to give them our all.”
Since 1983-84, the team that has won Game 1 in the conference semifinals has prevailed 80.2 percent of the time.
“We know how good they are,” Thibodeau said. “This is just one game. We’re going to have to play a lot better.”
Robinson led the way with 27 points — 24 in the second half — and nine assists, while Jimmy Butler, playing the entire game for the third straight time, adhered himself to LeBron James throughout and finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
James finished with 24 points but had just nine through three quarters.
“Jimmy played huge against the best,” Joakim Noah said. “I’m really proud of him.
The Bulls hung around through three quarters but then a Heat team — and, in particular, James — that started off rusty after its eight-day layoff began to assert itself. James scored six of his 15 fourth-quarter points in the first 1 minute, 49 seconds of the quarter and the Heat eventually led by seven.
But Noah grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to Belinelli, who tied the game with a 3-pointer with 4:59 left. Chris Bosh missed a jumper and Robinson sank his from up top with 1:18 remaining. After Dwyane Wade missed a 3-pointer, Robinson waved off a Noah screen to drive the lane on Ray Allen and scored on a scoop shot with 45.5 seconds left.
James then shot an air ball and Robinson, who matched Butler with 11 fourth-quarter points, split two free throws with 24.6 seconds left. James missed another 3-pointer and Robinson sank two free throws with 9.3 seconds left, capping the Bulls’ 10-0 run to close the game.
The Bulls defense limited the Heat to 39.7 percent shooting. And a 46-32 rebounding edge and 17-8 in second-chance points helped the Bulls overcome 16 turnovers.
“I’ve played on some tough teams, but this one is something special,” said Robinson, a seven-year veteran. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for 10 years. I told Coach, we just love to play for each other.”
The Bulls pulled into a 37-37 halftime tie despite Noah and Boozer suffering early foul trouble, Marquis Teague enduring a rough, short stretch and a bloody Robinson retreating to the locker room after James drove his head into the hardwood while both pursued a loose ball.
Deng typically draws James, who received his most valuable player trophy beforehand from NBA Commissioner David Stern. That’s why Butler called Deng earlier Monday to get some advice.
“I guess I’ll be stuck guarding him,” Butler said.
Like the Bulls, he isn’t going anywhere.
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