The Bulls did plenty of things well in Friday's Game 3 against the Miami Heat.
They kept the turnovers down, giving Miami very few fastbreak chances. They forced LeBron James into a poor shooting night and kept Dwyane Wade relatively quiet.
But beating the Heat without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich requires close to a perfect performance and the Bulls couldn't deliver. They dropped a 104-94 decision at the United Center and now trail this second-round series 2-1 with Game 4 on Monday.
"When you play this team, you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Things aren't going to go your way. That's the way it is. We're not going to get calls. That's the reality. We've still got to find a way to get it done and we can."
Thibodeau spent much of his postgame news conference complaining about foul calls, but more on that later. There were several key mistakes that cost the Bulls dearly in his game.
•Missed free throws: For most of the night, the foul count was close to even. But the Bulls hit just 17 of 25 free throws, compared to 26 of 30 for Miami. If they shot better from the line, the Bulls wouldn't have been playing from behind in the fourth quarter.
•Defensive help: After scoring a combined 14 points in the first two games of the series, Carlos Boozer got it going Friday, leading the Bulls with 21 points.
Everyone understands Boozer isn't the best individual defender. Three times down the stretch, the Heat got loose for easy layins when the Bulls badly needed a stop. Whether to stick with Boozer or go with Taj Gibson -- a better defender -- is a tough decision.
"You've got to look at the matchups, see how the game's going," Thibodeau said.
•Becoming more short-handed: Nazr Mohammed was ejected in the second quarter for shoving James, leaving the Thibodeau with yet another unavailable player.
The Bulls were burned by Miami's backup point guard Norris Cole, who drained 3 shots from 3-point range, including one with 1:58 remaining that put the Heat ahead 96-88. Cole is now a perfect 8-of-8 from 3-point land in the series, but there's only so much the Bulls can do about that.
Making free throws, protecting the basket and not getting tossed are things they can control.
"I think the big thing for us is we've got to close out quarters better and we do that, we'll put ourselves in position to win," Thibodeau said.
What seemed to bother Thibodeau more than anything were some of the fouls called on the Bulls while they tried to guard James. Jimmy Butler played all 48 minutes for the fourth time in five games, but he picked up 2 early fouls. He got the first one while James had his forearm buried in Butler's neck and the second when he tried to reach in and had his arm slapped away by James.
"Jimmy has a great demeanor, great toughness, great body position guy," Thibodeau said. "I'm watching him play defense and I'm looking at some of the things that are being called on him and I'm (at a loss for words). ... He's got a lot of toughness. He'll figure it out."
Another one that irked the Bulls came with 3:15 remaining and the Heat up by 5. Boozer missed a jumper, Noah outjumped Chis Bosh from behind and grabbed the offensive rebound, but was called for a loose-ball foul. Bosh hit both free throws to make it 90-83.
"We're well aware of what's going on," Thibodeau said. "I thought Jo for the most part did a great job. He's taking a lot of hits, keeps battling. That's what I expect of him. He had a tough call, big offensive rebound late that went against him, but he's making great effort to get to the ball. That's all you can ask of him."
James finished with 25 points, while Bosh produced 20 points and 19 rebounds.
The Bulls left the building with plenty of complaints, but they also failed to turn in their best performance.