In a continuation of the 2013 NBA Playoffs' most bruising series, the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls by a score of 104-94 in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. In turn, the Heat move ahead in the series by a margin of 2-1.
The question is, can the Bulls respond with a Game 4 win to even the series at 2-2?
Chicago stunned the world during Game 1, winning 93-86 without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich or Derrick Rose. Miami responded by winning Game 2 in dominant fashion, capitalizing on the high emotions and eventual ejections of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to win 115-78.
It was a much closer contest in Game 3, but the Heat remain in full control.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they went 2-2 against Miami during the regular season and are in position to start this series in the same way. In order to do so, however, it will take a miraculous effort.
Anything is possible in the playoffs.
Time: Monday, May 13 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: United Center, Chicago, IL
Series Record: Miami Heat 2, Chicago Bulls 1
Key Storyline: Keep Calm and Play Ball
Over the span of the past two games, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls have combined for 12 technical fouls. In that time, three Bulls players have been ejected and the Heat have won both games by double-digits.
Game 4 will be about which team can keep their cool.
Thus far, it's been Miami that's kept their eyes on the prize and the Bulls have suffered because of it. Due to the emotional nature of this rivalry, it's not hard to see why Chicago would allow their passion shine through.
When that fire leads to costly fouls and ejections, however, there are no excuses to be made.
With Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich all injured, Chicago has a very thin bench that cannot afford to lose any more talent. This has placed a heavy burden on their starters, and thus limits their room for error.
If emotions get the best of the Bulls, Miami will run away with this one.
Miami Heat: N/A
Projected Starting Lineups
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers (PG), Dwyane Wade (SG), LeBron James (SF), Udonis Haslem (PF), Chris Bosh (C)
Chicago Bulls: Nate Robinson (PG), Marco Belinelli (SG), Jimmy Butler (SF), Carlos Boozer (PF), Joakim Noah (C)
The Heat Will Win If...
The general consensus appears to be the the Miami Heat will win if they simply play their brand of basketball. The fact of the matter is, they lost Game 1 and were tied entering the fourth quarter of Game 3.
It takes more than talent to win in the playoffs and the Heat have learned that the hard way—you know, by owning a 2-1 series lead.
The key for Miami to win this game is to embrace the offensive versatility of Chris Bosh. During Game 3, that's exactly what they did, and they reaped the benefits.
Bosh finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal on a series-high 16 field-goal attempts.
It's no coincidence that the Heat ended up winning the game.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade need to perform at a more consistent level offensively, but getting Bosh his touches is the key. Not only can he draw fouls on both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but he forces the Bulls' perimeter to collapse.
That's a major reason Norris Cole decided to decimate Chicago's backcourt in Game 3 with 18 points on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
Outside of working it into Bosh, the Heat must not allow the emotion of this series to get the best of them. We saw that happen on the Bulls' behalf in Game 3, as technical fouls were flying and Nazr Mohammed was ejected.
That makes three Chicago players ejected in two games—something Miami cannot allow to happen to them.
Focus is the key come the postseason.
The Bulls Will Win If...
If the Chicago Bulls are to win Game 4, it's going to take more than just one independent factor that goes in their direction. In fact, the Bulls will need the perfect storm in order to pull out a victory and bring the series to an even 2-2.
It all starts with their bench.
During Game 3, four of the Bulls' five starters topped 40 minutes and just one of their reserves surpassed 20. Surprisingly, it was Carlos Boozer—Chicago's leading scorer with 21 points in 29 minutes—that was limited in action.
With Richard Hamilton receiving no playing time at all and Boozer, Chicago's best available offensive threat, limited in his minutes, Chicago must embrace the fact that they need their scorers. If they don't, it'll be more of the same.
Miami's bench outscored Chicago's second unit 36-8 during Game 3.
Furthermore, the Bulls must now allow the physicality and passion of this series to conflict with their end goal. Too many times thus far, we've seen Chicago give up points on technical fouls.
That starts with the ultimate energy player, Joakim Noah.
Something has to change.
Chicago has figured out how to play the Heat, as they were tied at 70-70 entering the fourth quarter of Game 3. Unfortunately, Miami pulled away and ended up winning by 10 after LeBron James and company took control.
Chicago's late game leader must return if Chicago's going to win this game.
They won't win comfortably, so it's now on Nate Robinson to do what he's done best this postseason—score during the fourth quarter.
If he can, we may just see a Game 4 upset. If he can't, Chicago's tenure in the postseason may approach it's ending.
That's a lot of pressure to place on one individual, but that's what's needed until Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng return.
The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are fierce rivals that have shown no signs of sportsmanship or love for the opposition. Instead, there appears to be genuine hatred between these sides, which has led to furious, physical basketball.
Thus far, Miami has been the beneficiary of something else: Chicago's lack of depth.
Injuries could change everything in this series, but that doesn't take away from the Bulls' current home court advantage. After all, Chicago hasn't lost three consecutive home games since Feb. 26, 2013.
A span of 35 games.
The Heat are reasonably favored in this game, as well as in the series, as Chicago has been ravaged by injuries. With that being said, the United Center is a difficult place to win and the Bulls were tied with the Heat entering the fourth quarter.
Regardless of who wins, it's going to be close.
The X-Factor here is Dwyane Wade, who has yet to display his All-NBA caliber form. LeBron James and Chris Bosh have played well, but it's D-Wade who owns two championship rings and he'll put that on display here.
With that being said, this is the postseason, folks—Chicago's about to make this series interesting.
Chicago Bulls 94, Miami Heat 88