Heat push back, take series lead over Bulls

Heat push back, take series lead over Bulls

May 10, 2013, 9:45 pm
Share This Post

After splitting the series’ first two games in Miami, upon the Bulls’ return to Chicago for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the stage was set for the perpetually-undermanned underdogs to put themselves in position to control their own destiny Friday night at the United Center.

And while their hearts were willing, they simply didn’t have enough to stave off the formidable firepower of the defending-champion Heat, losing 104-94, to now face a 2-1 deficit in the second round of the playoffs.

A 7-0 Bulls start, including a pair of Carlos Boozer buckets to open the scoring, worked the home crowd into a frenzied state at the contest’s outset.

“They’re swarming, putting two on him. There’s a lot of ways he can score. He can score off the board, he can rebound the ball, get deep seals, he can score in the pick-and-roll,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said about the much-maligned power forward before the game. “He’ll be fine. He knows what he has to do.”

For the visitors, All-Star Chris Bosh (20 points, 18 rebounds), who had previously experienced similar offensive struggles in the series, also got it going, leading to a run of six straight Heat jumpers to quickly get back into the game.

But while Miami got off to a torrid start shooting the ball, knocking down tough outside jumpers, the Bulls’ solid offensive execution, led by a dominant Boozer, enabled them to thrive -- although swingman Jimmy Butler picking up an early second foul while guarding league MVP LeBron James (25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) certainly put a damper on things.

In the final minute of the opening period tempers flared, as All-Star center Joakim Noah (15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) was assessed a technical foul for shoving Chris Andersen — while rushing to Nate Robinson’s (17 points, six rebounds, seven assists) aid after the Heat shot-blocker landed on top of the diminutive scorer — before the first quarter of play ended with the score knotted up at 25 apiece.

“You can’t get wrapped up in the wrong stuff, so we have to play. We know what we have to do. We know what happened in that game and we’ve got to handle it better. We’ve just got to be ready to go,” Thibodeau cautioned prior to the contest. “Ball in the air, it’s just going to be about our determination, our will. I thought Game 1, we imposed our will. Game 2, they imposed their will. We can’t get wrapped up with the officials, we can’t allow it to affect the next play. We’ve got to be ready to roll.”

Early in the second frame, the tight-knit affair got even more heated, as James was called for a technical foul for throwing Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed to the ground and in a blink of an eye, the veteran Chicago native got up and shoved James to the floor, resulting in his ejection, as well as the adoration of his hometown fans.

Through all the shenanigans, the Bulls maintained a slim cushion, as the perimeter trio of a playmaking Robinson, Italian sharpshooter Marco Belinelli (16 points, six assists) and Jimmy Butler (17 points), who displayed his much-improved deep range — not to mention harassing James into a 6-for-17 shooting night — shouldered the offensive burden.

Bosh continued to be a force for the guests and was aided by reserves Shane Battier and Norris Cole (18 points), who built on his stellar Game 2 performance, but the interior tandem of Boozer and Noah, along with help from Belinelli, kept the Bulls in front.

However, the Heat gradually made up ground as halftime approached and despite holding James and All-Star sidekick Dwyane Wade (10 points) to a combined 10 points, the Bulls trailed, 52-50, at the intermission.

After the break, the Heat initially remained in control, as James and Wade began the second half by clearly attempting to assert themselves more on the offensive end.

While that tactic was successful at first, balanced Bulls scoring, keyed by Butler — he hit an improbable turnaround bank shot to beat the shot clock and made a fearless layup in transition, both over James — sparked a 5-0 run by the hosts that prompted a Miami timeout to try to halt the Bulls’ momentum.

The Bulls clung to their slight edge and predictably, it was a roller-coaster ride for the remainder of the third quarter — between Robinson’s block of a James fast-break layup and Belinelli picking up his fifth foul on a bang-bang call, the audience went through a range of emotions — as the visitors stayed within close contact.

James’ shooting struggles continued, but partly due to Bosh’s strong work on the glass, the game was deadlocked at 70 all heading into the final stanza.

Miami took an early advantage in the fourth quarter behind contributions by the duo of James and Bosh, as well as the efforts of Andersen, whose high activity level inside was significant in equalizing the Bulls’ blend of size, length and athleticism.

Taj Gibson provided the Bulls with a lift off the bench, but it was still an uphill battle, as they still couldn’t quite close the gap as the game entered its stretch run, despite Boozer and Noah also assisting with the comeback effort.

Following a triple by James, who had struggled with his shot all evening, to give the Heat a seven-point Heat lead, Boozer knocked down a baseline jumper to trim the gap, but Cole, who was in the midst of a quietly outstanding frame, hit a three to put the visitors up 96-88 with 1:48 left.

“He’s gained the confidence of everybody in our organization, all year. He’s been steadily getting better and he’s earning his minutes,” Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said prophetically, after the Heat’s morning shootaround. “Our point-guard position is very important to us, more important to us this year probably in any other years.”

A James drive and three-point play with 1:23 remaining took the air out of the once-raucous building and while the Bulls continued to fight until the very end, the deficit was simply too much to overcome.