"There was a look in his eye," Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of power forward Udonis Haslem. "I knew it was time."
Playing his first significant minutes since he injured his foot in November, Haslem gave the Heat 23 minutes of much-needed physicality and sparked an 85-75 win over the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night to tie the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.
At one point in the second half, the Heat went 11 minutes and 30 seconds with only Haslem scoring points. But LeBron James came up big down the stretch with 29, and Dwyane Wade added 24.
Haslem, a Miami Senior High product, finished with 13 points -- including two emphatic dunks in the third quarter that bookended a 9-0 Heat run -- and five rebounds.
"'UD' has only one speed, and that's go," marveled teammate Chris Bosh, while Wade referred to his long-time teammate as "the heartbeat of our team."
That team can breathe a little easier after escaping with a win and stealing home-court advantage. Coming off a lopsided loss in Game 1, the Heat recovered down the stretch after blowing an 11-point lead to pull even in the series.
But then LeBron James took over, much as he did in Game 5 of the Boston series. Shaking off a brutal opener, James reeled off nine points over the final 4:27, including a go-ahead three pointer.
"I put it all on the line on the line tonight and did whatever it took for our team to win," James said after the game, in which he also had three steals, five assists, and ten rebounds.
Miami outrebounded the Bulls 45-41 after getting pounded 45-33 on the glass in the opener, a recovery that came as Chicago went ice cold from the field.
The Bulls shot 35 percent from the field, missed countless layups, shot just 3 of 20 on three-pointers, and went 4-for-16 in the fourth quarter.
Their offensive struggles late masked an equally rough stretch for the Heat. Before James hit the go-ahead basket, Miami had shot just 1 of 9 from the field in the final period.
The best-of-seven series resumes in Miami Sunday night.