(Sports Network) – The scene shifts from the Madhouse on Madison to the shores of Biscayne Bay on Sunday as the Miami Heat entertain the Chicago Bulls in the pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
LeBron James scored nine of his 29 points in the closing minutes during a physical affair in Chicago on Wednesday, but it was the Heat’s defense that allowed them to defeat the Bulls, 85-75, and even the set at a game apiece.
Miami limited Chicago to just two points in the final seven minutes, closing Game 2 on a 12-2 run. In fact, the Bulls’ only points in that stretch came on a well contested layup by Taj Gibson.
The suffocating effort sits in stark contrast to the series opener three days earlier, when Chicago ended the game on a 46-24 run to come away with a 103-82 victory.
James pulled down 10 rebounds while Dwyane Wade, despite suffering a nasty gash on his right arm, had 24 points and nine boards for the Heat, markedly better performances than Game 1, when they combined for 33 points.
"They respond and often play their best when their back is against the wall, under adversity," said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Miami also got 13 points and five rebounds off the bench from Udonis Haslem, who played for just over 23 minutes in his biggest performance of the postseason. Haslem, who missed most of the regular season with a foot injury, hadn’t played more than 4:12 in two previous games during the playoffs.
Derrick Rose had 21 points, eight assists and six boards for the Bulls, but made just seven of his 23 shots — many of them he said he would normally make. Luol Deng finished with 13 points.
"I think I was just missing shots or flipping the ball up, not going strong (to the basket)," Rose said. "It was just one of those nights."
However, it was also Miami’s defense, which played a big part in limiting the MVP to just two points in the fourth quarter.
As lopsided as the final result was, Chicago was still in the game with 7:16 to go, when Gibson dunked to make it a 73-73 game. But the final result also was an indication of how dominant the Heat were down the stretch.
"You’ve got to give them credit, their defense was outstanding," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "They fought us; their ball pressure was great."
The long layoff figures to help the banged-up Heat, who aren’t quite as deep as Chicago.
"Fortunately, we were able to have some days to recuperate," Spoelstra said. "Our guys, they’re not shying away from it. Neither team is. Both teams have built these habits for the entire season. We’ve proven we’re an aggressive, attacking, physical defense that rebounds the basketball. They’ve proven to be the same. So you have two things colliding into each other."
The Bulls, meanwhile, haven’t lost consecutive games since Feb. 5-7.
"Don’t jinx us like that," Rose said.
"We have to execute a lot better," Thibodeau added. "We have to screen better. We have to keep the ball moving. But we have to get some easy baskets, too."
The Bulls swept a three-game season series with Miami this season, taking two in the Windy City and another in South Beach. All three contests were won by razor-thin margins, however, with Chicago winning by three, four and one, magnifying the Heat’s biggest weakness in the regular season, the inability to close out tight games.
The clubs have met in the postseason five previous times with Chicago taking four of those sets. The Bulls swept Miami in the first round in the 1992, ’96 and 2007 playoffs. Chicago also took the Heat in five games in the ’97 East finals while Miami earned a six-game triumph over the Bulls in the first round of the ’06 postseason.
Game 4 in the series will be Tuesday, also in Miami.