LeBron James came on strong down the stretch to finish with 25 points, Chris Bosh added 20 points and 19 rebounds, and the Miami Heat followed up the most lopsided playoff win in franchise history with a 104-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Norris Cole scored 18, and the Heat pulled out a tight win after blasting the Bulls 115-78 on Wednesday.
This time, Chicago refused to go quietly. Never mind that the Bulls were coming off the worst playoff loss in franchise history. Put aside the fact that the ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf) remained sidelined, not to mention Derrick Rose, or that Nazr Mohammed got ejected in the second quarter for shoving James to the floor.
The Heat simply had too much in the end.
“Like we keep saying, that’s a tough team down there,” Bosh said. “We knew we’d have to bring a better effort than we brought in the first half. And that’s what it’s really all about.”
James hit just 6 of 17 shots and even got blocked on a layup by Nate Robinson in the third quarter. But the four-time MVP came through down the stretch, scoring 12 in the fourth.
He and Cole hit two big 3-pointers. Bosh perked up after two quiet games, and Miami’s bench outscored Chicago’s 36-8.
Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 21 points. Robinson and Jimmy Butler each scored 17. Joakim Noah added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Marco Belinelli had 16 points, but the Bulls couldn’t pull this one out.
They were within 85-83 when Cole scored on a finger roll with about four minutes left and Miami started to take control from there. James answered a 3-pointer by Belinelli with one of his own, and after Boozer hit a jumper for Chicago, Cole buried another 3 for the Heat to make it 96-88 with 1:48 remaining.
Finally, the Heat could breathe a little easier. Nothing about this one was easy, though.
Playing in Chicago for the first time since their 27-game win streak ended there, the Heat got all they could handle.
The Bulls made it clear early on they were going to put up a fight, and that had nothing to do with all the pushing and shoving.
Yes, there was plenty of that again. After Noah and Taj Gibson got ejected in Game 2, things got tense early on in this one.
There was Miami’s Chris Andersen landing on a driving Robinson late in the first quarter, and Noah giving the Heat forward a shove while he was still down.
Things reached a boiling point early in the second.
This time, Mohammed reached in and tried to steal the ball from James as he dribbled up the court.
Their arms got tangled. Mohammed fell, and when he got up, he gave James a hard shove to the court.
Both players picked up technicals. Mohammed got called for a foul and was tossed with 9:29 left in the half, forcing an already short-handed team to get by without another player.
All that overshadowed the fact that the Bulls were hanging with the Heat and were down just 52-50 at halftime after taking that ridiculous beating in Game 2.