MIAMI -- No one had this scenario in mind when the Power Trio mugged for the cameras last July -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade taking it relatively easy while Chris Bosh dominated an important playoff game.
The third wheel steadied the bike Sunday night as Bosh knocked down a surprising 13 of 18 shots for 34 points. The Heat pulled away late for a 96-85 victory before America's best front-running fans and took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
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"Our will wasn't there tonight," Derrick Rose said. "We just have to find a way to win the next one."
The Bulls face an important Game 4 battle Tuesday. They haven't lost three in a row all season.
"You have to commit to James and Wade, but that doesn't absolve you from covering the others," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You have to do both. The first quarter was hard fought and low-scoring. After that, it was too easy.
"I thought Bosh was terrific right from the start of the game. I thought we allowed him to get his confidence early and he's hard to slow down. We gave him too much space, didn't give the appropriate help."
On the bright side, the Bulls welcomed the return of Carlos Boozer, who finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds. They also went back to winning the rebound battle 41-32.
More than anything, the Bulls need to find a way to play with the lead in the second half of Game 4. Miami pulled off another late-third-quarter run, just as it did Wednesday at the United Center.
The score was tied at 53-53 when the Bulls committed a Tom Thibodeau faux pas, losing Mike Bibby in transition and watching the 33-year-old guard knock down a 3-pointer.
Eventually, Miami ran up 13-4 surge to build a 9-point advantage, and the Bulls once again had to expend energy on a comeback.
They got back into it quickly enough, with Luol Deng knocking down a couple of 3-pointers late in the third. But they made too many poor decisions down the stretch.
Taj Gibson missed a free throw that could have made it a 1-point game, the Bulls committed a shot-clock violation, Rose was called for a charge against Wade, and the Bulls lost a certain offensive rebound basket by Gibson when Noah was called for a touchy loose-ball foul against Bosh.
A pair of Boozer free throws kept the Bulls within 78-74 with 6:39 remaining. On Miami's next trip, Wade lost the ball on the way to the basket, but it landed in Udonis Haslem's arms for a lay-in. Deng made a bad pass, then Rose fell for a Wade pump fake and gave the Heat 2 easy points at the line.
Overall, the Bulls could say they played poorly, caught few breaks and still could have easily been the second-half front-runner in this contest. Miami played well defensively again, but the Bulls could have turned the tide by making better decisions.
Rose was too quiet in the fourth quarter, scoring 2 points and taking just 2 shots. The Heat continued to send two defenders at him, but the Bulls got away from their more effective offense where Rose gives up the ball early, then gets it back on the wing.
"I'm just trying to make it easy," Rose said. "They're doubling me every pick-and-roll, so just get the ball out of my hands and have my teammates create for others."
Boozer had a rough start to the contest, missing all 5 of his shots in the first quarter. He was blocked a couple of times and bounced a dunk off the front rim when he tried to drive against James.
When Gibson picked up his second foul early in the second quarter, Boozer came back in with a fury. He scored on the Bulls' next four possessions. He took it to the rim aggressively and also started knocking down his midrange jumpers.
At the other end, though, the Bulls couldn't control Bosh. Any opening he was given, Bosh knocked down the jumper. Noah usually is eager to help protect the lane and he was in a bind Sunday, getting burned when taking just a few steps away from Bosh.
"He came in with a very aggressive mind-set. But ultimately it's about reading the game," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of Bosh. "He put his imprint on the game right from the beginning, which helped keep them honest with some of their coverages."
The Bulls hit just 6 of 24 shots in the opening quarter but only trailed 18-15. Their defense succeeded in making Miami take tough, contested shots more often than not.