No one saw this coming.
The Miami Heat had struggled getting off to good starts through the first four games of the series and in facing an ailing yet determined team not wanting to get closer to an early summer, they expected a fight from the Bulls in Game 4.
They got the quick start they wanted on both ends of the floor, jumping out to an 11-2 advantage, forcing the Bulls into turnovers and contested shots, and the tone of the game was established from that point on. The Heat went on to win handily, 88-65, to take a 3-1 series lead and a chance to finish things off Wednesday in Miami.
“Ideally, that’s how you want to start, but we’ve also played them when we’ve gotten off to good starts and they’ve come right back,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to be able to finish it. With this team in particular, you have to finish plays, finish possessions, quarters and games. Even as the clock is ticking down, you still think that they have time to make some kind of run at you. You just have to stay with your game. For the most part, other than the turnovers, we played to our identity.”
The Bulls never offered a challenged to the Heat, shooting under 30 percent in each quarter – the worse in the third when they managed just two-of-13 for 15.4 percent.
The 65 points set a team playoff record for fewest points in a game for the Bulls, also setting a new playoff low for points in a quarter with just nine in the third.
The Heat didn’t play their best game, but dominated as the Bulls shot just 25 percent from the floor.
As valiant as the Bulls have been throughout the regular season into the playoffs in playing without Derrick Rose, a one-footed Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, it appears their collective tank is nearing empty.
“We go into each and every series trying to wear teams down,” LeBron James said. “They’re in a tough situation because of injuries and illness. They don’t have their full roster, but that’s not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team without their full roster, so we can’t let that even get into our heads.”
James led the Heat with 27 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Chris Bosh added 14 and four blocked shots while as a team, they shot 48 percent from the floor.
“We had to bring a certain amount of intensity to the game, “Bosh said. “Sometimes, that’s the most difficult part; to exceed the other team’s intensity, especially when you’re on the road. I just think overall, we just did a good job staying with it. I wouldn’t say it was easy; we just worked as hard as we could on defense. We kind of talked about it after that Game 3 performance; we really didn’t feel like we did a good job. So we wanted to come and have more energy today and concentrate on our coverages better.”
With things in their favor heading to Miami for a potential closeout game on Wednesday, the Heat’s focus is improving on tonight’s game and facing a much more inspired Bulls team on Wednesday.
“We have to go in with a mindset to really approach this with desperation and urgency,” said Spoelstra. “You don’t want to give this team second life. They’re far too dangerous because they continue to grind and they compete. We know that and respect that. So the next 48 hours, we just have to get ready for a great competition, hopefully, on Wednesday night.”