Despite some absolutely stupid play, the Bulls put forth a valiant effort in a Game 3 loss on Friday night at the United Center. The Bulls were tied entering the fourth quarter, but the Heat, specifically LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Norris Cole, made enough big plays down the stretch to pull out a pivotal road victory.
There was much made about the officiating after the game, with Tom Thibodeau calling out the refs in his postgame presser. It was kind of surprising to hear Mr. No Excuses go in so hard on the refs, although it was clear that the Bulls did get the short end of some calls. Even so, I don't expect much to change when it comes to the officiating, and the Bulls need to focus more on playing better as opposed to dwelling on the whistles.
After getting smoked on the break and in the paint in Game 2, the Bulls were able to change their fortunes in those areas in Game 3. However, the Heat won the rebounding battle by two, with Chris Bosh somehow pulling down 19 rebounds. When the Bulls beat the Heat, one common factor is that they win the rebounding battle, and usually pretty handily.
The Heat also shot really well, making 50.0 percent of their shots in Game 3 despite LeBron having one of his worst shooting performances of the year (6-of-17). I wouldn't pin all of this on the Bulls' defense, because they only allowed 28 points in the paint and forced the Heat into a lot of jumpers. Unfortunately, Miami was able to knock down 50 percent of their mid-range jumpers and 40.0 percent from deep.
Cole has proved to be a huge thorn in the Bulls' side, scoring 18 points in two straight games and going 13-of-16 from the field and 7-of-7 from three over that span. Many of those looks have been wide open, so the Bulls need to do a better job finding him and getting a hand in his face.
The Bulls of course will once again be without Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich (as well as that other guy), as neither player is making all that much progress. Deng tried to practice a bit over the weekend, but he had to cut it short both times and admitted that things just aren't going well for him.
Carlos Boozer did step up offensively in Game 3, getting off to a strong start and finishing with 21 points. All five starters scored in double figures, but the short-handed Bulls ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, going just 9-of-22 in the quarter and 1-of-9 from three. That's what will often happen when you're working with essentially a six-man rotation.
Tonight could wind up being the Bulls' last gasp effort of the season. A win tonight and anything could happen. But a loss likely means these two teams go back to Miami and the Heat decide to flex their muscles and end this thing on their home floor. Hopefully the Bulls can give us at least one more great memory this season.
Game 4 will tip off at 6 p.m. CT on TNT.