And then there were seven.
The Miami Heat, fueled by Norris Cole and Dwyane Wade in a dominant fourth quarter, became the first team to advance to the conference finals on Wednesday night with a back-and-forth 94-91 win over the Chicago Bulls.
LeBron James struggled from the field (5-of-14), but still led a balanced Miami attack with 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Miami jumped out to a commanding 22-4 lead to start the game, and it appeared as though the Bulls were going to lay over for an embarrassing Game 5 loss (in front of the Smiths, no less!). But then the good Nate Robinson showed up.
Actually, the "cheat-code" Nate Robinson showed up:
Not Bill Walton @NotBillWalton
Nate Robinson finally remembered to type in Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start before the game started2013-5-16 00:02:30
The dynamic point guard, who came into the game fresh off a 0-of-12 shooting performance, poured in 11 second-quarter points to put the Bulls up, 53-47, at the half. He finished with 21.
Tom Thibodeau's squad came out of the locker room strong, and behind solid quarters from Jimmy Butler and Rip Hamilton, carried a 77-69 lead into the final period.
But unfortunately for Chicago, the Heat are pretty good at playing dead:
Sean Highkin @highkin
The Heat spent half the winning streak perfecting this "pretend to be hurt and then LOL JK WE'RE UNSTOPPABLE" strategy.2013-5-16 01:32:19
After Shane Battier scored eight quick points, Norris Cole hit a jumper and then successfully took the roof off with this thunderous dunk that put the Heat up for good:
Watch out BELOW!!! Norris Cole just threw down a Cold Blooded Dunk! #NBARapidReplay - http://t.co/VNhhx88oV62013-5-16 01:25:09
Wade then played the role of closer, scoring six points in the final six minutes to hold off Chicago. Also, I'd say his knee is feeling pretty good:
Unfortunately for the Bulls, an absolutely terrific season and a masterful overall job by Thibodeau dealing with a slew of injuries will likely be marred by the "what if Derrick Rose..." game.