Bulls need to shake off Miami vise grip
After the Bulls lost for the first time this season to the star-studded Miami Heat on Wednesday, there were smiles in the hallway as Derrick Rose's mother, Brenda, posed for a photo with Bulls legends Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen.
Life goes on, the sun will shine in South Florida when the series resumes following a three-day break. But the Bulls need to figure out what they can do better the next time they're in a possession-by-possession boxing match in the fourth quarter.
The Heat had an answer for how to survive a low-scoring, physical fourth quarter. LeBron James simply rose up and knocked down three long jumpers in the final minutes as Miami evened the Eastern Conference finals with an ugly 85-75 victory.
"We're not worried about missed shots," forward Luol Deng said. "It's OK. It's not the end of the world. It's best-of-seven. We'll go down there and fight."
The fourth quarter tally was 14-10 in favor of Miami as the Bulls scored the fewest points in a quarter in their playoff history.
The Bulls erased an 11-point, third-quarter deficit and tied the score when Taj Gibson rattled home a dunk with 7:16 remaining. They had the momentum and seemed poised to pull out another close win against the Heat.
But with Miami's defense in all-out scramble mode and the referees letting the teams play, the basket shut down completely.
"This is playoff basketball," Gibson said. "If you didn't watch the Indiana series, you knew something's wrong. But it's physical. Guys are banging. You're playing for a championship.
"We've seen each other all year long. This is no time to be friends. Guys are really fighting."
The home team scored just 2 points the rest of the way, and that happened when Gibson went up in traffic, was fouled and had his shot attempt bounce in off Heat center Joel Anthony. When Gibson missed the ensuing free throw, the Bulls trailed 78-75 with 2:29 left but couldn't get a stop or a score after that.
"You have to give them credit," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Their defense was outstanding. I thought they were into us. They fought us. Their ball pressure was great."
The Bulls finished the night shooting just 34.1 percent from the field. They missed 10 free throws and went 3-for-20 from 3-point range.
Both teams went scoreless for nearly three minutes after Gibson's dunk tied the score at 73-73. Following a blood timeout, caused by both Dwyane Wade and Bulls center Omer Asik, James found the energy to knock down the go-ahead 3-pointer.
"There wasn't much offense out there, but when we play defense like this, we're tough to beat," James said.
James, who said he has been battling a cold, scored 9 of his 29 points in the final 4:36. Wade added 24 points, while Miami got a lift from veteran forward Udonis Haslem. In just his third appearance since suffering a foot injury on Nov. 20, Haslem produced 13 points and 5 rebounds.
For the first time in five meetings this season, the Heat actually outrebounded the Bulls 45-41. The Bulls still had a 17-10 edge on the offensive glass.
On the Bulls' next two trips after James' 3-pointer, Rose (21 points) missed a driving shot in traffic and Deng was bottled up on a fastbreak and had the ball knocked away by Mike Bibby, of all people.
James canned another jumper to put the Heat up by 5. The Bulls got Kyle Korver an open look from 3-point range, but it rolled around the rim and out. After forcing a Miami turnover, Gibson scored the Bulls final basket.
Then trailing by 5 after Wade free throws, Deng tried to drive and had the ball swatted out of his hands by James for a turnover.
"It was kind of rough physically and also just rough from a basketball standpoint," Korver said. "It wasn't a really good flow, for us anyway. We got forced into taking a lot of tough shots.
"No one had a great shooting night. Usually, you need to have at least one or two guys to kind of get it going to win a playoff game. We have to make the shots that are there."
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