Bulls falter down the stretch, lose 104-94 to Heat
CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Bulls held LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in check. They failed to keep track of Chris Bosh, and he made them pay for it.
Carlos Boozer scored 21 points to lead a balanced performance by Chicago, but Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds to power the Miami Heat to a 104-94 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday night.
James made a clutch 3-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes remaining and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Miami reclaimed home-court advantage while taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Monday night in Chicago.
The Bulls had all five starters score in double figures but hurt themselves by going 17 for 25 from the free throw line. Jimmy Butler scored 17 points, Marco Belinelli had 16 and Joakim Noah finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Boozer made a free throw with 4:14 left to trim Miami's lead to 85-83, but Norris Cole responded with a layup for the Heat and Bosh made three foul shots. James' 3-pointer extended the advantage to 93-86 with 2:35 remaining, and Cole also had a big 3 down the stretch.
Cole led a strong performance for Miami's reserves, who outscored their counterparts 36-8. Cole had 18 points, and Shane Battier finished with nine.
The Bulls and Heat returned to the court for the first time since Miami's 115-78 victory on Wednesday night, but the day off and change of scenery had no effect on the increasingly feisty tone of the series. Game 2 featured nine technical fouls, two ejections and one flagrant foul, and they picked up right where they left off in that one.
The first technical of the night went to Noah, who pushed Chris Andersen off Nate Robinson after the diminutive point guard was knocked down on a drive late in the first quarter. Andersen tried to kick Noah as he pulled Robinson away and both teams converged on the scene.
But that little mishap was nothing compared to an ugly sequence that started when James was fouled by reserve Nazr Mohammed near midcourt with 9:29 left in the first half. James was hit with a technical after he shrugged off the lumbering center, who got up and pushed the NBA MVP to the ground. Taj Gibson and Andersen then got tangled up in the resulting skirmish while coaches Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls and Erik Spoelstra of the Heat came onto the court to try to restore order.
Mohammed was ejected for the shove, a minor nuisance for a Bulls team already missing Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose due to injuries. Thibodeau threw his hands up in disgust after the referees' decision was announced.
The Bulls seemed to feed off the turmoil for a bit. Belinelli hit a big 3-pointer and Noah converted a three-point play as Chicago opened a 37-30 lead with 8:03 left in the first half.
James was quiet at the start, working to get his teammates involved while contributing on the glass. He began to look for his shot right before halftime and made four straight free throws to help the Heat to a 52-50 lead at the break.
Bosh had 10 points and 10 rebounds at intermission, while Boozer had 14 points for Chicago.
NOTES: Gibson was fined $25,000 by the NBA for an outburst at a referee in Game 2. "I knew I was going to get hit,'' he said. "I was just hoping it wasn't a suspension, but I deserved (the fine).'' ... Devin Hester and Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears received a loud ovation when they were shown on the videoboard in the first half. ... Thibodeau said the results of a second MRI on Hinrich's bruised left calf were "basically'' the same as the first. "He's improving,'' Thibodeau said. "That's a good sign.'' ... James was 6 for 17 from the field.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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