CHICAGO ? Welcome to the celebration of the Miami Heat's Eastern Conference championship. The one that fell out of the sky in the fourth quarter Thursday night with an 18-point fireworks show in the last three minutes.
But first, a few rules.
No booing or heckling. Anyone who throws something will be asked to leave the column.
Nausea bags available upon request.
Yes, LeBron James is going back to the NBA Finals, and the hard question is which place loathes it more, Chicago or Cleveland. This means elimination to one, shocking and sickening as it turned out Thursday night. And a nightmare to the other.
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Not that anyone, anywhere should be surprised. Isn't this what all the fuss was about last summer, when the Heat engaged in all-star proliferation? You don't put three filet mignons on the same grill and expect to eat hash. With James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it was always going to be the NBA Finals or bust.
Actually, that might be a title or bust, but to do one, the Heat had to get to the other, and here they are, after roaring past the Bulls 83-80 in a most inexplicable way.
Mission (almost) accomplished. Now they're the Dallas Mavericks' problem.
A lot of you are as wild about this development as you are about poison ivy, but be warned. Credit is due Miami's steel in getting this far, and the intention is to grant it. Especially after Thursday night, when a 12-point Bulls lead with 3:12 left was vaporized.
If you can't stand the Heat, stay out of the next few paragraphs.
The problem is the Miami aura — the good and bad of it — which can be blinding enough to obscure the real life grind the Heat have had to survive. It is rare that a team be this disliked that works this hard.
They reminded people so much of a reality show, it was sometimes forgotten they were a basketball team. "They are Hollywood as hell," Chicago's Joakim Noah said, "but they are very good."
And anyone who still gags at the thought of James in a Miami uniform should also note he went 46 minutes in a hostile hothouse Thursday and delivered 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Miami requires a total inspection, and not just the perception of a silly hour on ESPN.
So don't just look at the Heat star power. Look at their defense.
"It's the mentality you have to have," Wade was saying. "This is how Miami Heat basketball was invented, and we're trying to make sure we go out and play that way."
Don't just look at their headlines, look at their growth. Their trials this season came with cameras mounted everywhere but the hand towel dispenser. No twitch went without analysis. Every bad day was studied as a possible crisis.
"Nothing from our season has been easy at all," James said. "That is not even in our vocabulary."
Don't just look at their paychecks. Look at their will.
Look, for goodness sakes, at Thursday night.
Wade, with his shoulder sometimes looking like he needed Tommy John surgery, had gone 3-for-10 with nine turnovers. This seemed like not only a Miami loss, but genuine worry for the rest of the series.
Something extraordinary would be needed.
"There hasn't been too much this season that's been normal for us," coach Erik Spoelstra would say later. "This team has built up a lot of resiliency."
Wade starting looking like a man with two good shoulders — three baskets, with a four-point play in there somewhere — and James started hitting, and suddenly the Bulls turned into the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Matter of fact, in a way they are, if you look at their young roster. Derrick Rose looked like a champion early but a 22-year-old in his first conference finals late. He finished 9-for-29 and had no magic in the end to stop the Miami surge.
He had been Heated.
"Defense, staying together," James explained. "We've been in this situation before."
They've been in every situation before. Well, except for the NBA Finals. Now they are.
Anyone need a bag?