LeBron James led the Miami Heat to their third straight win over the Chicago Bulls to help Miami take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals seven-game series.
It was a hard-fought game by both teams with Derrick Rose missing the game-winning shot to send the game went into overtime, where the Heat were able to pull away for the win.
These are the keys to the game.
The probability at this point is undeniable. The team that takes a 3-1 lead wins the series 94 percent of the time. It's hard to see either of these young teams, the Chicago Bulls or the Oklahoma City Thunder, coming back to win their series. It's likely that the Heat and Mavericks will meet in the finals.
Which brings up this point: Both Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have been playing like they're on a mission. They are arguably the two greatest players without a ring.
The biggest difference in the game, and the most decisive factor was the free throw line. Miami hit 32 of their 38 free throws compared to the Bulls 17 of 22. That's just too much of a disparity for the Bulls to overcome. LeBron James made all 13 of his free throws.
The impulse of Bulls fans might be to blame the game on the officiating. There were some questionable calls both ways, but by and large it was an evenly called game. The Bulls did not lose because of the officiating. The Heat got to the line because they did a better job of forcing the ball into the paint and drawing fouls.
This has been a big part of the Heat's offense throughout the postseason and throughout the regular season. This is how they win. It's a skill to get to the line, and the Heat, particularly the Big Three are good at that skill. Give credit where it's due.
The Bulls led the Big Three battle all the way up until overtime, but in the end Dwyane Wade and James were just too much for the Bulls big three of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng. LeBron James, by himself, scored 35 points and played defense on Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter.
It's clear that LeBron James is the better player, but for the moment, set aside the MVP discussion. Derrick Rose is the MVP winner this year, and I really don't think James cares. He'd rather be where he is than the MVP.
The reason I bring up the MVP conversation is that sometimes it's easy to forget that Derrick Rose is just 22 years old. In this series sometimes he's been the "MVP" and sometimes he's been a 22 year old kid. His performance in the playoffs and in this series in particular isn't really a matter of his ability, it's a matter of his maturity.
What he's done in leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference has been a tremendous accomplishment, even if, as it appear will happen, the Bulls don't win this series.
Mike Miller absolutely exploded tonight out of nowhere, and led the Heat bench to outscore the Bulls bench 23-18. The other thing that was intriguing was the Bull bench, noted as the more deep bench by most, was the bench which played less during the second half and overtime, and that might have been the difference in the game.
Four of the five starters for the Bulls played 43 minutes or more. Derrick Rose played the entire second half and overtime. The Bulls had nothing left in the tank at the end of the overtime. The Heat aided by the likes of Miller, along with solid play from Mario Chalmers 33 minutes from Udonis Haslem gave the Heat more rest.
At the risk of inciting the Miami Heat fans by saying something nice about Joakim Noah in the loss, he deserves some credit. For most of the game he virtually defended the paint by himself. Even the shots that Bosh and James made often were at the end of the shot clock with Noah's hand in their face. He was virtually everywhere, guarding everyone.
How many players in the NBA can guard Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh effectively one on one? It was a spectacular defensive performance, and though the Bulls lost, it still deserves mentioning. Noah left nothing on the court and had a fantastic bounce back game from Game 3. He was the biggest reason the game was close.
Before I got myself too excited about the Game 1 performance I said it would be the Heat in six or the Bulls in seven. I now think it'll be the former.
The Bulls are just too good to lose the series at home. They'll come back and fight hard in Game 5. They should win in a hard fought game. Right now it looks though like the Bulls are just not as good a team as the Heat. LeBron James has the prize in his sight, and it looks like nothing is going to get in his way.
I expect the Heat to secure the series in Game 6.