MIAMI — The Miami Heat was poised Wednesday to stave off a spirited challenge from the injuries-plagued Chicago Bulls and cruise into the Eastern Conference finals against either the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers.
The Heat handed the Bulls another drubbing Monday night with an 88-65 win in Chicago to take a 3-1 lead in the series and bring the fifth game to the AmericanAirlines Arena for what was widely expected to be another victory.
“We just worked as hard as we could on defense,” Chris Bosh said after Monday’s game. The effort paid off.The 65 points the Heat allowed the Bulls were only two more than the all-time postseason low for a Miami opponent and it was easily the worst offensive performance by a Chicago team in the playoffs.
Never before had the Bulls scored fewer than 69 in a playoff game nor 10 or less in a quarter during the postseason, but both those marks fell on a night when they were dominated on both ends of the floor.
It has been a bruising match-up, with Chicago clearly frustrated by the absence of star players Derrick Rose, out for the year after major surgery to the knee; Luol Deng, recovering from a spinal tap; and Kurt Hinrich, who suffered a bruised left calf in game 3. Deng and Hinrich were available only for limited time in the playoffs.
Tempers flared on Chicago’s side.
Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah were ejected from one game and Gibson was fined $25,000 for an outburst against an official. Naji Mohammed was ejected after he shoved LeBron James to the floor during a brief altercation.
And Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau, who accused James of flopping, was fined $35,000 for criticizing the officiating crew in game 3, saying the Bulls weren’t going to get the benefit of the calls.
James shot down accusations of flopping, saying they reminded him of the days when some claimed he was overrated and questioned his ability to lead a team to a championship.“It’s kind of the same [as when] I heard people say I was overrated,” James said Sunday. “It’s kind of like the same response.”
There was plenty of talk about that incident between James and Mohammed. With James dribbling near midcourt, Mohammed reached in to take a foul and stop a potential break. Their arms got tangled. Mohammed fell, and when he got up, he gave James a hard shove to the court.
“None of this is new to us,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Bulls’ Taj Gibson expects more of the same.Thibodeau rejected the idea that his team was running out of steam, describing the Heat as “a great team.” “They’re in a tough situation,” James said of the Bulls.
“They’ve had some injuries and illnesses and whatever’s going on. They don’t have their full roster but that’s not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team (in the first round) without their full roster.”
Meanwhile, the Heat were holding out hope that Dwyane Wade would be fit enough to continue through the playoffs, once Miami gets past Chicago.
Wade has been suffering from a bruised right knee that severely restricted his play. In game 3, he was scoreless in the first half and ended up with 10 points.
Also, James has been named to the NBA’s all-defensive first team, along with Noah being selected.
Material from The Associated Press was used for this report.