There was a perfect playoff atmosphere at the United Center on Wednesday night, considering Miami was in town for the first time since last year's Eastern Conference finals and it was nearly 80 degrees outside.
Bulls fans got a huge letdown when news broke that Derrick Rose would miss the game due to a groin strain.
But it still turned out to be an entertaining night. The Bulls took command with a big second quarter and held off a late comeback to pull out a victory for all the role players of the world.
Dwyane Wade scored 36 points and LeBron James added 35, but the Bulls recorded the 106-102 victory to move 3½ games ahead of the Heat for the Eastern Conference lead.
Backup guard John Lucas III was the offensive hero for the Bulls (36-9), knocking down 9 of 12 shots from the field for 24 points. As a team, the Bulls hit 10 of 19 attempts from 3-point range.
“Individually, it was a good game for me, but that doesn't mean nothing to me,” Lucas said. “It's all about winning. I've got one thing on my mind, that's to win. I don't care if I score 4 points, 5 points, or 25. As long as we win, I'm the happiest guy on this team.
“Derrick pep-talked with everybody. He was like, ‘Yo, let's go. Go out there and play our game.' Everybody knew how badly he wanted to play this game.”
The Bulls also dominated the boards, winning the rebound battle 50-34 and outscoring Miami in second-chance points 21-7.
“This game was won in the trenches,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They just annihilated us on the glass. That's two straight nights that happened.”
When Lucas drove on James and hit a tough fadeaway over the much taller defender, the Bulls led 96-84 with 4:17 left.
Everyone knew a Miami comeback was on the way, and Wade put on an impressive one-man show in the fourth quarter. He hit 8 straight shots and scored 19 of 21 points for the visitors. The Heat was down 100-96 with a chance to move closer when Wade finally missed a long jumper with about 40 seconds left.
On the next trip, with Miami's defense swarming, rookie Jimmy Butler missed a jumper, but Ronnie Brewer grabbed a vital offensive rebound and the Heat had to start fouling.
Kyle Korver and Lucas went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 18 seconds, which helped negate a couple of late 3-pointers by James Jones. The Heat never had the ball with a chance to tie in the fourth quarter.
“Wade and James and (Chris) Bosh, they're three great players,” Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau said. “You can play great defense against them and they can still make. What we were trying to do, the way the game was unfolding, we didn't want anyone else to get going.”
At Tuesday's practice, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't let on that anything was wrong with Rose. He said the all-star guard sat out to rest some aches and pains.
At shootaround on Wednesday morning, though, word spread that Rose was suffering from a groin strain and would be a game-time decision. When game time arrived, the answer was no. Rose watched from the bench wearing a blue suit.
C.J. Watson, who missed the previous five games with a sprained left ankle, started in Rose's place. The Bulls also re-signed veteran guard Mike James for the third time this season. He was in uniform, but did not play against the Heat.
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