Bulls 85 - HEAT 96 Game 3 Recap

MIAMI – For much of this series, with two of the league’s best defenses performing at their peaks, it has felt as if the team that would win each game was simply the team that could muster the best bad offense. Whichever side could get the most off-dribble jumpers to fall, the most tipped loose balls to bounce the right way or the most broken plays to result in free throws, would prevail.

But in the Miami HEAT’s 96-85 Game 3 victory over the Chicago Bulls, it was Chris Bosh’s good offense making all the difference.

Bosh’s night started slowly, as he missed shots from the elbow, the left wing and in the paint. Just three points off 1-of-4 shooting through that period, as Bosh popped off picks to space but not to efficient offense. It was a far cry from his usage in a 30-point effort in Game 1, when Bosh was constantly in motion, always a target with momentum going towards the rim.

That’s exactly what he was from the second quarter on. Once a couple free throws dropped, he moved without the ball, the HEAT set screens to put him in position to score and an aggressive attitude took care of the rest.

“I got to the free-throw line, I got a little bit of rhythm right there,” Bosh said. “After that I saw the ball go in one time and that was good enough for me.”

Two possessions epitomized Bosh’s effectiveness against the Bulls. The first, in his 13-point second quarter, saw Bosh playing the corner man in one of Miami’s oft-used sets, where the ball-handler passes off to the elbow man, then cuts through the paint to set a screen along the baseline, with the idea being to free the corner man for a cut to the rim. Bosh has rarely, if ever, played anything other than the elbow man in this set, but with Erik Spoelstra seemingly sensing an advantage, there he was, cutting from the three-point line into the paint for a bucket.

“We know that to win this series, Chris is probably going to be the guy to lead us in scoring,” Dwyane Wade said.

That attitude carried over to the second half, and Bosh’s second poignant possession. Both Wade and LeBron James appeared to be actively seeking Bosh on offense, and he continued to reward them, hitting three-consecutive jumpers in the first four minutes of the fourth. On the fourth possession, Wade – struggling at times with the ball, turning the ball over four times – sought out Bosh, finally hitting him at the right elbow.

“It was encouraging to see that level of trust,” Spoelstra said. “They wanted the ball to go to him. He’s a critical part of what we do. We run a lot of our offense through him regardless of whether he’s getting shots or not.”

Rather than employ the usual pump-fake-and-drive that has become so difficult against defenses that are so quick to pack the paint, Bosh made an instinctive decision, spinning off Carlos Boozer before jumping off two feet for a dunk.

Bosh roared, the crowd followed suit, the HEAT went up six, and outside of a few Boozer free-throws on the next Bulls possession, six would be as close as Chicago would get the rest of the evening. Bosh finished with 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting and 8-of-10 free throws. Sunday night, efficiency had its name.

Mike Bibby contributed a pair of threes as well, Mario Chalmers some timely first-half baskets and Udonis Haslem hit three spot-up jumpers – adding a new dimension to Miami’s bench as a threat on either side of the floor – but the rest of the credit is due the HEAT’s defense.

“There is absolutely nothing easy in this series,” Spoelstra said. “It’s still about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out. The last couple of games, we have been able to do that at the end.”

Barely over 100 points per 100 possessions for the Bulls, on 41.6 percent shooting and 39 percent shooting first attempts (removing their 7-of-13 second-chance shots). Incredibly, the Bulls shot just 15-of-30 at the rim. Even when Chicago managed to out-rotate the help rotations with crisp passing, every attempt in the rim was met with one or two challengers. There was, in Spoelstra’s words, nothing easy.

That’s why Miami is leading the series at 2-1, and a good-standing 2-1 at that. Last-second shots haven’t been a necessity, nor have fluke shooting nights. The HEAT lost one game because of being out-worked on the boards, but in all three games they have pressured Derrick Rose into an uncomfortable attack and allowed no significant advantage at any time in half-court sets. The Bulls are doing the same, but the difference has been Miami’s horses and the scoring they provide.

Sometimes, as is this series’ nature, it’s bad offense sustaining just long enough. But when it’s been Wade cutting off the ball for layups, or James turning defensive tenacity into open-court scores or Bosh creating and absorbing contact in the lane, the HEAT have been only at their own mercy on the defensive glass.