Nearly three hours after it started, the Miami Heat come out of the United Center with a 104-94 victory to take a 2-1 series lead, while also reclaiming homecourt advantage after the Chicago Bulls won Game 1.
But, man, was it frustrating. Frustrating would be putting it lightly, actually. The Heat were downright infuriating and aggravating to watch at some points during a game that seems like a standard Miami victory, if looked at by someone who just saw the box score.
Because LeBron James’ 25 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and only one turnover aren’t indicative of a usual dominant performance. For the first time in a long time, if ever, James was supported by his teammates in this one.
James shot 6-of-17 and constantly settled for mid-range jumpers against the defense of Jimmy Butler, as well as the help from Chicago’s frantic defenders. Before he recorded a necessary 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the final frame, LeBron was wildly disappointing and passive for the most part.
Don’t look at Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen as the leaders, either. Although Wade shot 5-of-7 from the field, he failed to get to the foul line a second time this series and was forced into four turnovers.
Ray failed to capitalize off a number of wide-open looks and finished with four points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field and 0-of-5 shooting from deep.
Meanwhile, Wade and Allen allowed Marco Belinelli to go off for 16 points, 4-of-9 three-point shooting and 6 assists before fouling out.
All five starters for Chicago scored, with Carlos Boozer’s 21 on 10-of-16 leading the way. Each starter scored at least 15 points, but the depleted bench only yielded eight points.
The bench became even thinner when Nazr Mohammed lost his mind and shoved LeBron to the ground early in the second quarter. The shove stemmed from Mohammed committing an unnecessarily aggressive wrap-up foul at mid-court, which resulted in LeBron throwing Nazr off of him.
James was given a technical for the altercation. Joakim Noah was also given an early technical after, once again, unnecessarily shoving Chris Andersen after he and Nate Robinson fell to the ground on a common basketball play.
The Bulls were reduced to cheap fouls and dirty plays. It kept them around, with help from the numerous absurdly difficult jumpers that stopped falling in the fourth, for the majority of the game, but talent ultimately prevailed in the final minutes.
The two teams were tied going into the fourth, but Miami won the final 12 minutes by a 34-24 edge. They ran off a 19-11 run in the final 4:13 after a Carlos Boozer free throw cut the Heat lead to two.
So, who ended up winning this for Miami? Naturally, from the unlikeliest of sources.
A game after setting a postseason-high with 18 points, Norris Cole once again stepped up to the plate and delivered in an astronomically huge way. He dropped in 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including a driving layup that gave the Heat a four-point lead with 4:01 left and would spark a critical 5-0 run.
Cole would go on to make his third three-pointer of the night minutes later on a dagger of a shot that gave Miami an eight-point lead with 1:48 left.
Norris was a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. He’s now 7-of-7 from that range in the series. Did I mention he was a 28 percent three-point shooter last year?
Not to be overlooked was Chris Bosh, who finished with 20 points and 19 rebounds. He and Norris were seemingly the only competent players in Heat uniforms for the first three quarters before LeBron eventually woke up.
Although LeBron was absent for the first 36 minutes, he did convert all 11 of his free throws and shot 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.
Bosh had a big-time three-pointer with 9:46 left in the fourth after Chicago had taken back the lead on the previous possession. He would also hit a layup off a pick-and-roll with Dwyane Wade to stretch the Heat lead to five with 5:09 left.
Words cannot begin to indicate how much of a struggle this was. A ten-point victory does not come close to representing just how back-and-forth this game was before the Heat eventually ran away with it late.
Chicago led by as much as seven following a Joakim Noah that put them up 37-30 with 8:03 left in the second. Shane Battier and Norris Cole would respond with consecutive threes.
Words also can’t indicate just how important Norris Cole was in this one. Or how important he has been in this series overall. He has been one of the few players worth relying on from the perimeter and has done an excellent job at keeping Nate Robinson’s absurd influence in check.
Robinson finished with 17 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, but shot 5-of-13 from the field and 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
It’s game like this that make me wish the Brooklyn Nets could have simply won Game 7 at home against this same depleted Chicago team. Even without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, the Bulls put up a fight in games they should be losing by margins similar to what they suffered in Game 2.
Still, it seems that this had to be Chicago’s best shot.
They kept LeBron and Dwyane out of the paint all game, outscored Miami 44-28 in the paint, had them taking mid-range shots all night, were fortunate enough to have Ray Allen miss shots he’ll make 99-out-of-100 times in practice, and held LeBron to 6-of-17 shooting.
All of that, and it results in a 10-point loss at home. Even if Deng and Hinrich come back (hell, go ahead and bring Derrick Rose back, too), the Bulls are not going to beat Miami again this series.
Even if Luol and Kirk come back, that actually may work out for Miami to deal with less Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli.
Miami gets a two-day break before Game 4.