Fearlessly, Hinrich tackled James in the open court with a technique that would make every Bears safety proud. James still managed a gain of two, hitting both free throws.
"I feel like I got the worst of it,'' Hinrich said. "I was just hanging on for dear life.''
The approach killed the longest active winning streak in sports. Hinrich sacrificing his body despite giving up 4 inches and 60 pounds to the league's most unstoppable force made the message from the undermanned Bulls clear early. If the Heat were going to win their 28th straight game they were going to have to earn it. To the delight of 23,014 reinvigorated fans at the United Center, NBA history ended here.
Jimmy Butler issued a similarly terse reminder when he knocked Dwyane Wade into the row of cameramen, hustling to block a layup. Carlos Boozer put an exclamation point on the statement with a pick that drew a flagrant foul on James. By the time Hinrich wrestled the ball from Chris Bosh like he simply wanted it more, the basketball world watching had reached a stunning conclusion.
The Bulls were the tougher team and, on their most unforgettable night of the season, better than the best.
"It says when we're right we can beat anybody,'' Boozer said. "It was like a playoff game.''
Indeed, it was rough enough to make James whine about hard fouls postgame like he was lobbying refs in a seven-game series. Chicago really is no place for the Heat this March. But not even Waka Flocka Flame would have predicted this.
"We just had that edge about us tonight,'' Hinrich said.
Getting 28 points from Luol Deng but playing without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, the Bulls showed what Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp sitting courtside would call sandpaper. A game plan that relied upon major contributions from Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook was one only an Eastern Conference coach could love, which explains Tom Thibodeau's sly pregame grin as a playoff-like atmosphere built.
"Just another game,'' Thibodeau insisted. "You can get caught up in the hoopla but you have to understand what goes into winning.''
The Heat winning more consecutive games than any major sports team since the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight turned this into an event — either that or Waka Flocka Flame. The rap artist created a social-media stir 24 hours earlier tweeting to his 1.5 million followers that Rose would play.
Around town, the status of Rose's sitting streak generated as much buzz as the Heat's winning streak. Waka Flocka Flame became Wednesday's most Googled name in Chicago. In the end, Mr. Flocka Flame was as wrong as the rest of us who guessed when Rose would debut. I never have felt more of a kinship with a rapper.
With only 12 Bulls games left before the playoffs, predictions seem futile as Rose sounds more content every day to sit out all year. I have an easier time understanding Waka Flocka Flame's lyrics than Rose's nonchalance over returning.
Conventional medical wisdom says rehabilitation from a torn ACL includes playing in NBA games yet Rose appears in no hurry. Everybody respects that athletes heal differently and Rose knows his body best. It still seems hard to fathom a competitor like Kobe Bryant or James sounding as satisfied to watch 11 months after a knee injury.
"It's definitely not frustrating,'' Rose told reporters at the Berto Center earlier. "Health-wise, I'm getting better.''
Definitely not frustrating? Wednesday was Derrick Rose Bobblehead Night, in case Bulls fans wanted a souvenir to remind them of the season Rose's head was all over the place. He claims to have been getting better since being cleared five weeks ago but not good enough yet to help an inconsistent team surviving on guile and effort. Not good enough yet to try to overcome a mental obstacle as challenging as the physical one to join the fun.
The chorus calling for Rose to shut himself down keeps getting louder but there remains value in returning. Thibodeau gallantly tried explaining how Rose's explosive, "unique" power game factors into the equation. But at some point so does the fact a player who has missed 97 of 136 regular-season games over the last two seasons could benefit from playing.
Rose missed another game Wednesday night, perhaps the most inspiring victory of the season. The IndefatigaBulls beat an NBA team for the ages without their MVP. It was impossible not to wonder what they might be capable of in the playoffs with him.