The Bulls again missing two of their top three scorers challenged for three quarters, but didn’t have enough to finish. The result was a 118-96 Miami Heat victory.
The Bulls fell back to .500 at 32-32 while Miami is 38-27. The Bulls have lost six of eight and 11 of 16. They play next in Toronto Monday.
The Bulls were within a point at 84-83 early in the fourth quarter before Miami took control, scoring in nine of their next 10 possessions to turn a close game into a rout.
The Bulls were led by Pau Gasol with 17 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, though also six turnovers and uncertain passing and ballhandling were fatal in the end. Justin Holiday had his best game as a Bull with 14 points and Tag Gibson added 13 points. Miami got 26 points and nine assists from Goran Dragic, 22 from Josh Richardson and 19 points from Luol Deng.
The Bulls suffered another injury setback pregame when it was learned Derrick Rose would be out with a groin strain suffered late in Thursday’s loss in San Antonio. With Jimmy Butler still out with his knee injury, the Bulls were forced to start E’Twaun Moore and Holiday in the backcourt against Dwyane Wade and Dragic. And Holiday caught perhaps Wade by surprise to start with a pair of jumpers as the Bulls took a 10-4 lead. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has emphasized the importance of better starts, and the Bulls did a good job of slowing Miami after the Heat’s fast break and shooting devastated the Bulls in Miami earlier this month. Gibson powered inside against former Bull Deng and Gasol’s clever passing from the high post enabled the Bulls to take a 24-16 lead nine minutes into the game and 31-23 after the first quarter. Gasol had eight points, five rebounds and four assists in the quarter.
The Bulls survived the early second quarter substitution that has put them behind in recent games as Bobby Portis made a pair of jumpers as Miami got within 37-34. Holiday continued to impress with his jumper, getting fouled on a 15 footer for a three-point play as the Bulls took a 45-38 lead midway through the quarter. Holiday added a three for a 51-42 lead before Miami behind Hassan Whiteside’s physical interior play and Dragic’s push got Miami back within 52-50. But Gasol’s clever passing off Gibson screens opened the Bulls to grab a 58-54 halftime lead on 51.1 percent shooting.
Holiday continued to surprise and impress after halftime with a pair of slam dunks, one over Amar’e Stoudemire. But the Bulls reverted to their sloppy play, committing a pair of turnovers—seven in the third quarter--and being outraced to a loose ball that led to a Joe Johnson three and 73-71 Miami lead midway through the third quarter. The Bulls rallied back on a Mike Dunleavy three-point play and Doug McDermott three. But the Heat carried an 84-81 lead into the fourth quarter. The Bulls then missed six of their next seven shots with a group unable to create shots or get to the free throw line. The Heat went ahead 88-83 and then hit the Bulls with a 13-0 run with Deng and Richardson combing for three three pointers and a 101-85 lead with six minutes remaining.