The odds had to overwhelmingly be in Chicago's favor. Down by a point with 22.7 seconds left, with Derrick Rose heading to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
The reigning NBA MVP was a perfect 29 for 29 from the foul line in the fourth quarter this season. As if this moment needed extra significance, it was coming against the Miami Heat, the team that downed Rose and the Bulls in last season's Eastern Conference finals by taking the series' last four games.
Rose missed the first.
Missed the second, too.
And missed a potentially game-tying jumper with 3.7 seconds left to boot, as somehow the Heat held on for a wild 97-93 win on Sunday. LeBron James — the player who Rose supplanted as the league MVP — scored 35 points for Miami, which never trailed yet never could relax until Chris Bosh sealed it by making two free throws with 0.1 seconds left.
"This is so surreal right now knowing that I had a chance to win the game," said Rose, emotional at his locker afterward. "And this time it didn't work out."
Bosh scored 24 points and added 12 rebounds for the Heat (15-5), who got 15 points from Dwyane Wade and pulled within one game of the Bulls (17-5) in the East.
"Like the playoffs in January," Wade said.
Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah each scored 11 for Chicago, which got 10 apiece from Ronnie Brewer and Carlos Boozer.
"A highly contested basketball game," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Oh, that doesn't even begin to tell the story of this one.
"I let my team down," Rose said.
It had a little of everything. James leaped over — yes, over — Chicago's 5-foot-11 John Lucas for an alley-oop dunk from Wade in the opening minutes, saying afterward he never saw the Bulls' guard in his path. Wade missed nine of his first 10 shots, airballing the last of those. James missed a pair of free throws 5.1 seconds after Rose misfired on his tries in the final moments. There were skirmishes, hard fouls, pushing and screaming and shoving. Even an inadvertent whistle in the final moments that ultimately didn't hurt Miami, although the Heat strongly believed the whistle took away their advantage.
As for that notion that this was "just another game" ... nope. Not even close.
"The way I see it, every time we play the Bulls it's going to be like that," Bosh said. "It's always going to be an atmosphere where nobody wants to lose and that's how the playoffs are."
This wasn't the playoffs.
It only seemed that way.
The Bulls trailed by 12 points midway through the second quarter, though never let Miami pull completely away. Not even in the fourth quarter, when it seemed like Miami was on the cusp: James connected on a long jumper to close the third quarter, then he and Shane Battier set each other up for 3-pointers on the first two possessions of the fourth for an 82-71 lead.
Chicago called time-out, and Rose willed the Bulls back. A floating jumper made it 84-82, and a knifing layup that he made seem simply effortless knotted the game for the fourth and final time with 6:55 left.
The Heat answered with a 10-2 run, before Chicago rallied again, Rose's three-point play with 49.1 seconds left cutting the lead to 94-93.
On the play where he missed the free throws, Rose then lost the ball on a drive, but drew contact from Miami's Udonis Haslem and went to the line. Rose's first hit the front of the rim and bounced away, and his second rimmed out. James grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Noah — only to miss both free throws himself.
"I couldn't believe he missed both," Wade said of Rose. "I couldn't believe LeBron missed both, either. Averaged itself out, I guess."
After James' second miss, Wade said he knocked the ball away and Bosh appeared to emerge with control, but an inadvertent whistle led to a jump ball. James — who talked Bosh out of taking the tap himself — outleaped Taj Gibson, getting the ball to Mario Chalmers, who made one free throw for a two-point lead.
Chicago wound up getting one last chance with 9.9 seconds left, calling time out. Naturally, it went to Rose, who weaved his way into the lane — but came up short. Bosh got the rebound, and Miami began celebrating.
"The ball was on our side this time," said James, who defended Rose in the fourth quarter — and in the postgame, saying last season's MVP deserved credit for the comeback instead of simply having all the blame for misfiring down the stretch.
The Bulls played without forward Luol Deng and guard C.J. Watson, both sidelined with wrist injuries. Watson may be back in Chicago's lineup as early as Monday, and Deng — who has a torn ligament in his left, non-shooting, wrist — is "very close" to a return, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Insistence that this was "just another game" notwithstanding, Miami started quickly. Wade appeared a bit more emotionally charged than usual after joining his teammates in the pregame huddle, and the Heat ran out to a fast early edge.
Maybe it would be more accurate to say they "jumped" out to that lead.
Wade set James up for three dunks in the first 7 minutes, the last of which is probably going to be replayed for quite a while. James appeared to be forgotten as he hovered on the weak side of the floor, so he darted toward the basket. Wade tossed a lob his way — and the two-time MVP went over Lucas for a dunk that put Miami up 16-7.
"I never saw him," James said.
Said Lucas: "When he gets that running jump, what can I do?"
More than two hours later, that play — so wild that the NBA quickly tweeted video of the slam — almost seemed forgotten. The Heat celebrated, and the Bulls lamented.
Just like in last season's East finals.
"Derrick has always been someone who's his biggest critic," Noah said. "He takes losses very hard. He wouldn't be the competitor that he is if he weren't. At the end of the day, we have his back. I'll go to war with him any day. I've never been around a competitor like that in my life."