The Miami Heat marched into enemy territory and captured a victory in Game 3, defeating the Chicago Bulls, 104-94, to take a 2-1 series lead.
Game 3 proved to be a dichotomy of sorts, as physical play and hot shooting reigned supreme. Both Miami and Chicago shot greater than 45 percent from the field, but ultimately, it was the Heat who were able to execute more effectively down the stretch.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were rather passive throughout, and were especially quiet in the first half. Although the Heat shot 51.4 percent from the field in the first half, the duo combined for just 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting over the game's first 24 minutes.
James repeatedly settled for jumpers as the Bulls stacked his side of the floor and packed the paint, and finished with a line consisting of 25 points (6-of-17 shooting), eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals. However, for all of his missteps, James scored 12 huge points in the fourth quarter.
Wade was efficient, but didn't attack the basket with gusto the same way he did in Game 2, and finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Chris Bosh had his best game of the series to date, scoring 20 points and pulling down a game-high 19 rebounds. The Bulls were happy to let the Heat shoot open mid-range jumpers, and Bosh made do, shooting 50 percent from the field.
The frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer led the Bulls, scoring 15 and 21 points, respectively. As was to be expected, Noah made significant contributions elsewhere, as he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked two shots.
In addition, all five Chicago starters finished in double figures, including Nate Robinson, who chipped in 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting and one monster block of James on a fast break late in the third quarter.
Marco Belinelli, who's emerged as a significant contributor for the Bulls, proved once again why he's so valuable to Tom Thibodeau's depleted roster. The Bulls have few players capable of creating off the dribble, and Belinelli was able to do so in Game 3, scoring 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Butler was his usual, pesky self, bothering James while boasting a diverse offensive repertoire as he contributed 17 points in the losing effort.
Chicago outscored Miami, 44-28, in the paint, but the Heat exploited the holes in the Bulls' defense as Norris Cole (18 points) and Shane Battier (nine points) shot a combined 5-of-8 from three. Cole, in particular, has been instrumental in Miami's two wins, as he's seen crunch-time minutes in place of starter Mario Chalmers.
In yet another physical affair, the Heat and Bulls couldn't escape the first quarter without getting into a heated exchange. First, it was Noah who came after Chris Andersen. Then, it was a dust-up between James and Nazr Mohammed that resulted in the Bulls' center being ejected.
A rare sight during this series, both teams shot the lights out early on. By the end of the first quarter, four of Miami's five starters had scored four points or more, while all five Bulls starters registered points in the first 12 minutes.
James scored just four points on 2-of-5 shooting in the early going, but an encouraging development for the Heat was the play of Bosh. Bosh was in a groove early, and scored six first-quarter points on 3-of-4 shooting. That was a welcome sight for Miami, particularly when you consider Bosh had scored just 22 points in Games 1 and 2 combined.
As for Chicago, Boozer opened the game with a flurry of buckets, converting on five of his first six attempts from the field. Throughout the postseason, Boozer's success has been a barometer of the team's success as a whole, and that was evident early as the Bulls held a lead for the majority of the first half.
Game 4 tips off Monday night at 7 p.m. ET in Chicago.
The Heat were lazy with the ball early, but picked it up and knocked down six consecutive mid-range jumpers.
Boozer was from the start, scoring 10 of the Bulls' first 14 points.
Butler picked up two quick fouls, but Thibodeau chose to leave him in. However, he would be switched off of LeBron.
Although things were calm throughout much of the first quarter, tempers flared when Noah took a shot at Andersen after a hard foul on Robinson. A technical foul was doled out accordingly.
Mohammed and James got into it in arguably the most unlikely skirmish of all time.
All of the physicality gave Joey Crawford more excuses to blow his whistle, which is never a good thing.
Midway through the second quarter, the Bulls were outscoring the Heat, 18-6, in the paint.
The Heat led by two at the half despite fairly tame offensive performances from the trio of James, Wade and Bosh.
Butler played all 24 minutes in the first half, scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds in that stretch.
Despite the loss, it's time to accept that the Bulls are a legitimate threat to the Heat and that this series could very well go the distance.