Miami’s LeBron James put in a powerful fourth-quarter performance to steer the Heat to a 104-94 win over Chicago on Friday and a 2-1 lead in their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series.
James shook off a shove to the court that earned Nazr Mohammed an ejection — and brought accusations of play-acting from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — to score 12 points in the final quarter, finishing with 25 for the game.
Also on Friday, San Antonio’s experienced stars shone to give the Spurs victory over Golden State and a 2-1 lead in their West semi-final.
Miami’s Chris Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds, while Norris Cole matched his postseason career high with his second straight 18-point performance.
Chicago were annihilated in Game 2, suffering the heaviest playoff defeat in club history at 37 points, but fought against adversity on Friday.
The Bulls were still without the ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf), not to mention Derrick Rose, and then had Mohammed ejected in the second quarter, but were still within two points with four minutes left.
Still the Heat proved too good and ground out the victory.
“You can’t win a championship being pretty and shiny,” Bosh said. “You’re going to have to get dirty. You’re going to have to play physical. You’re going to have to dive on the floor. You’re going to have to do things that are extremely tough.”
“People forget just two years ago we were a halfcourt, grind-it-out kind of team that was trying to beat you down. Just because we’ve moved to more of a free-flowing offense, we’re more spread a little bit, that doesn’t mean that we are just a run-and-gun team,” he added.
The Heat prevailed on a night when James was off-target most of the way, hitting just six of 17 shots and getting blocked on a layup by Nate Robinson in the third quarter.
However, he and Cole hit two big three-pointers. Bosh perked up after two quiet games, finishing one rebound shy of the club playoff record, and Miami’s bench outscored Chicago’s 36-8.
Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 21 points. Robinson and Jimmy Butler each scored 17. Joakim Noah added 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Marco Belinelli had 16 points, but the Bulls could not pull this one out.
They were 85-83 with about four minutes left and Miami started to take control from there. James answered a three-pointer by Belinelli with one of his own, and after Boozer hit a jumper for Chicago, Cole buried another three for the Heat to make it 96-88 with 1 minute, 48 seconds remaining.
San Antonio’s Tony Parker scored 25 of his 32 points in a sizzling first half, while Tim Duncan added 23 points and 10 rebounds as the Spurs beat Golden State 102-92 to take the series lead.
Kawhi Leonard finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Parker added five assists and five boards to help the Spurs wrestle back home-court advantage from the Warriors after withstanding a brief fourth-quarter rally.
San Antonio outshot Golden State 50.6 percent to 39.3 percent and curbed streaky shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the first time in the series.
Thompson scored 17 points on seven-of-20 shooting, while Curry had 16 points on five of 17 from the floor.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is scheduled for today in Oakland.