Following Game 3, the Bulls were probably looking at the stat sheet and wondering how they lost it, especially since so many aspects of their game plan worked to perfection.
The main priority for the Bulls was to limit Dwyane Wade and LeBron James offensively, which they did, as they only combined for 12-30 shooting and 39 points.
The Bulls also wanted to get Carlos Boozer going in this series. This was also a rousing success as Boozer had his best game of the postseason with 26 points and 17 rebounds.
The Bulls also wanted to limit the fastbreak opportunities for Miami and force them to setup in the halfcourt. The Bulls rarely allowed the Heat to run in the open floor, and when the Heat did get fastbreak opportunities the Bulls were able to setup their defense quickly.
The Bulls wanted to control the boards on Miami and Chicago did that as well. They outrebounded the Heat 41-32 in the game.
Finally, the Bulls wanted to win the battled of the benches. After Udonis Haslem scored 13 points and added five rebounds in Game 2, he was limited to eight points and four rebounds in Game 3. Meanwhile, the Bulls bench outscored the Heat's bench 20-14.
Nevertheless, the Heat still managed to pull away down the stretch and win the Game 96-85. The Bulls must be wondering what do they have to do to change their fortunes in Game 4.
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals will officially be the most pressure packed game that the Bulls have played all season. Along with the solid play by the league MVP Derrick Rose, one of the biggest advantages they have had all year was the ability to play loose without the specter of expectations that faced teams like Miami and the Lakers. The Bulls were able to float under the radar and win games without worrying about the media scrutiny that comes with being a marked team.
Now their time of being the "confident underdogs" is over. The Bulls, a team that many pundits believed had all the ingredients to beat the Heat and win this series, is facing it's first real adversity of the playoffs.
Game 4 will show whether the Bulls truly are ready to contend this year.
One thing that would help is if the MVP Rose could become more efficient in his offense. He's averaging 23.6ppg so far, but is only shooting 39 percent in the series. He has become a volume scorer, which is just what the Heat want him to be. They prefer him to have to take 24 shots to get 23 points, and be kept out of the paint.
The Bulls also need to speed up the tempo of their offense. They were able to get out in the open floor in Game 1, and get solid contributions from their role players by playing at a quicker tempo. But since the Heat's defense has shown up with a vengeance in the previous two contests, the Bulls are just not getting many open looks. They are not a great perimeter shooting team to begin with, but when you ask a team that struggled to score from the field to shoot with a hand or two in its face, it becomes a daunting task to shoot at a high percentage.
The major questions the Bulls need to answer are these: Where is the offense going to come from in Game 4? (Luol Deng is doing an admirable job guarding LeBron James, but it has clearly detracted from his offense as James is defended him quite well, and Deng often looks winded late in games against James). Can they get back-to-back strong games from Boozer to combat the Heat's big three? (The Bulls needs another strong game out of Boozer to win Game 4, and if not, the Bulls offensive options are very limited. Brewer, Bogans, Korver and Noah just are not providing much offense.) Lastly, can they hold James and Wade to less than 40 combined points in consecutive games?
The Bulls only have about 24 hours to solve these vexing issues. Game 4 is not an elimination game, but it will carry the significance of determining ultimate control of the series. If the Bulls win, they tied the series up at 2-2 going back home seeking to go up 3-2. If the Bulls lose, their chances of advancing to the finals falls to 4 percent--the number of teams to recover from a 1-3 series deficit--and a feeling of inevitable ousting will hang over the team for the duration of the series.
For a team that has played in precious few, "must-win" games this season, the Bulls have all the pressure in the world on their shoulders now.