Shaquille O'Neal's words were sharp and pointed and aimed straight at his target, like those passes he whips to cutters when he is double-teamed.
His target this time was referee Eddie F. Rush.
"My intention was to come out and be myself, until Eddie Rush derailed me," O'Neal said after fouling out.
Chicago's Luol Deng also played a big part in knocking defending champion Miami off track. So did Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni.
Deng scored 33 points, Gordon and Nocioni each hit two free throws in the final 18 seconds, and the Bulls held off the Heat, 96-91, yesterday in Chicago in Game 1 of their opening-round rematch.
"This game was really big," Deng said. "Now that we have the lead, most of the time the team that loses has to adjust. We did a lot of things today that worked for us."
The Heat trailed, 92-91, after Dwyane Wade found Udonis Haslem for a layup with 38 seconds left, but Gordon hit two foul shots with 18 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Wade missed a 3-pointer and Nocioni hit two more free throws with 9.8 seconds left for the final score.
The Heat beat the Bulls in six emotional games last year on the way to the championship, but injuries limited them to 44 wins during the regular season. Still, this looked like a difficult matchup for a Bulls team that dropped from the second seed to fifth in the Eastern Conference when it lost the finale to New Jersey.
Wade missed 23 games late in the season with a dislocated left shoulder and struggled through three quarters. He scored 9 points in the fourth and finished with 21, while O'Neal had 19 points before fouling out with 3:19 left.
He accused the Bulls of flopping and said they had "a lot of help out there."
Deng, who enjoyed a breakout season but had struggled against the Heat, made it look easy this time, hitting 14 of 22 shots. Gordon chipped in with 24 points and a career-high 11 assists, and Nocioni scored 17 points.
The Bulls appeared to be in control late in the third quarter. Tyrus Thomas blocked consecutive shots by Gary Payton and Antoine Walker (20 points), then broke the other way for an alley-oop dunk that made it 70-59. That brought the fans to their feet and sent Miami into a timeout. Gordon's 19-foot jumper made it 72-59 with 38 seconds left in the quarter.
O'Neal and Wade headed to the sideline with their fifth fouls about 3 1/2 minutes into the fourth, but the Heat refused to go away. They were within 78-76 after two free throws by Walker.
Miami's superstars checked in with 4:58 remaining and the Bulls ahead by 3. Nocioni's 3-pointer made it 84-76 with 4:24 left, and when he drove the lane and got fouled by O'Neal with 3:19 remaining, things were really looking good for the Bulls. O'Neal left the game, Nocioni hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play, and the lead was 87-79.
Nocioni fed Deng on a two-on-one for a 3-point play that made it 92-83 with 1:51 left, before the Heat made another run.
Rockets 84, Jazz 75 -- Playing with home-court advantage for the first time in his career, seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady had just 1 point at halftime before scoring 16 points in the third quarter to lead Houston over Utah in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
McGrady, who scored 23 points, was 0 for 6 in the first half. Before his outburst, the Rockets relied on Yao Ming, who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
Utah led by 9 at halftime and was ahead, 49-41, before Houston went on an 8-2 run, fueled by 7 points by McGrady to get within 2. A jumper by Deron Williams made it 53-49 before a three by Shane Battier put Houston within 1.
The Rockets took a 54-53 lead late in the third when Derek Fisher missed a fast-break layup and Rafer Alston got the rebound and found Yao alone at the other end of the court for a dunk.
Pistons 100, Magic 92 -- Richard Hamilton scored 22 points, Rasheed Wallace had 16, and midseason addition Chris Webber added 12 for host Detroit, which never trailed in the first game of its first-round series with Orlando.
Detroit point guard Chauncey Billups had 22 points and 11 assists while holding his counterpart, Jameer Nelson, to 10 points. Nelson fouled out with 25 seconds remaining.
Nets 96, Raptors 91 -- Richard Jefferson scored 28 points, Jason Kidd nearly had a triple-double, and New Jersey withstood a fourth-quarter rally to beat host Toronto in Game 1 of their first-round series.
Vince Carter, the former Raptors star who was jeered right from the opening introductions, scored 16 points but shot just 5 of 19. But Jefferson stepped up to make 11 of 21 shots, including eight of his first 10.