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Miami Can Put A Stranglehold On Eastern Finals In Game 4

(Sports Network) – Top-seeded Chicago hopes to even the Eastern Conference finals when they visit the Miami Heat in Game 4 on Tuesday.

A Game 1 rout by the Bulls is now ancient history after Tom Thibodeau’s club dropped two in a row, the latest of which was a 96-85 Miami triumph in Game 3 on Sunday. Chris Bosh went 13-of-18 from the field en route to 34 points in that one as the Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter.

"It’s the Eastern Conference finals and it’s coming down to will and determination," Bosh said. "I want people to know I want it."

LeBron James added 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for Miami, which built off its 85-75 win last Wednesday to take a 2-1 series lead. Dwyane Wade tallied 17 points and nine boards as the Heat earned their eighth straight postseason win at the American Airlines Arena.

History is now on Miami’s side. Since 2006, when the Heat won their lone NBA crown, the winner of Game 3 of the East title series has advanced to The Finals each time.

"There is absolutely nothing easy in this series, and it’s still all about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And the last couple games we’ve been able to do that at the end."

Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls, who lost consecutive games for the first time since February 5-7. Derrick Rose donated 20 points, five boards and five assists.

"It’s definitely frustrating. Our will wasn’t there tonight, where they still found a way to win playing good basketball," Rose said. "We just got to find a way to win the next game."

Ahead by four, 78-74, with 6 1/2 minutes to play in the game, Miami put the game away with a 9-0 run. After Udonis Haslem, who had eight points off the bench, made a driving layup, Wade followed with four free throws prior to a Rose turnover. James was fouled on a layup at the other end. The old-fashioned three-point play gave the Heat an 87-74 lead with 5:07 left.

Chicago never got closer than seven the rest of the way as it struggled in the half-court set against a very tough Miami defense.

"They’re a great defensive team," Thibodeau said. "The first thing we have to do is rebound the ball and get out in transition, try to get some easy baskets. And then if their defense is set, you can’t dance and hold the ball. The ball has to move. Players have to move."

Off the court issues are also swirling around the embattled Bulls. Rose was under the microscope after allegedly saying a number of NBA players use performance-enhancing drugs and then claiming he was misquoted. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 by the league after hurling an anti-gay slur in to a fan during the first quarter of Game 3.

"Thibs always talks about walking through a fire together," Noah said. "That’s what it’s all about. You win Game 1, there is a lot of love after the game. You lose two, it’s like the end of the world. But if we can get this one on Tuesday tied up going home, that would be a good position to be in."

Chicago, which finished the regular season an NBA-best 62-20, hasn’t lost three in a row all season.

"We just got each other. This is a family. We’re just trying to stay together knowing that it’s definitely harder now," Rose said. "But we’re going to get through this. And this summer we’re going to laugh about it later on."

On the injury front, Bulls backup center Omer Asik is battling a lower leg injury.

"It’s day to day," Thibodeau said of Asik’s injury. "Kurt [Thomas] is always an option because of his ability to defend, rebound and hit the spot upshot. He’s a great screener. He can make your offense very effective."

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 5 in the series will be Thursday back in Chicago.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.