LeBron James and the Miami Heat didn’t even give the Chicago Bulls room to breathe, practically squeezing the playoff life out of them to take a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Another effort like this will seal it.
James scored 27 points and the Heat nearly matched a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a playoff game, pounding the listless and short-handed Bulls 88-65 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“We worked for it,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “I never like to say that things are easy.”
The Heat sure made it look that way, though.
The 65 points allowed were only two more than the all-time postseason low for a Miami opponent, and it was easily the worst offensive performance by a Chicago team in the playoffs.
Never before had the Bulls scored fewer than 69 in a playoff game nor 10 or less in a quarter during the postseason, but both those marks fell on a night when they were dominated on both ends of the floor.
Miami led by 11 at the half and put this one away in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 17-9 in the period.
Now the Heat will try to wrap up the series at home Wednesday night, taking what they hope will be the next step toward a second straight championship.
It’s hard to believe the Bulls won the series opener the way the past three games have gone.
Miami pounded Chicago in Game 2, coming away with its most lopsided playoff victory while handing the Bulls their worst ever postseason loss — and the Heat continued to roll from there.
James had his usual complete game, with eight assists and seven rebounds Monday.
Bosh finished with 14 points after scoring 20 and grabbing 19 rebounds in Game 3, and the Heat won again despite another quiet night from Dwyane Wade (six points), whose right knee was bothering him again. He appeared to land hard on it taking a fallaway jumper in the third quarter but was able to return to the game after getting re-taped.
“It’s frustrating at times, but you just try to do what you can,” Wade said.
Norris Cole also struggled with seven points after back-to-back 18-point performances, but the Heat had more than enough in this one.
They shot about 49 percent while the Bulls set a franchise playoff low at 25.7 percent. Chicago was particularly bad from the outside, going 2 for 17 from 3-point range.
The Bulls again were missing ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf), and a team that kept finding ways to win despite being short-handed all season simply appeared to run out of steam, even though coach Tom Thibodeau rejected that idea.
“No,” he said. “I think the thing is they’re [Heat] a great team. We have to come out with great intensity — but we also have to make shots.”
There’s no denying the Bulls have been in a tough spot all season with Derrick Rose recovering from knee surgery and just about every other major player sidelined at some point. They’ve been hit particularly hard in the postseason, too.
“They’re in a tough situation,” James said. “They’ve had some injuries and illnesses and whatever’s going on. They don’t have their full roster, but that’s not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team [in the first round] without their full roster.”
Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double in the postseason but was just 3-of-14 from the field. Jimmy Butler scored 12 and Joakim Noah grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a miserable night for Chicago — particularly Nate Robinson. With Cole and Mario Chalmers harassing him and the big men helping out, he missed all 12 of his shots and did not score.
He said he fell hard on his left shoulder on a pick-and-roll at one point, although he couldn’t remember exactly when, and had it wrapped in ice afterward. Then he took off the wrapping and threw it hard to the floor.
“Go back to the drawing board and figure it out,” he said.
Richard Hamilton scored 11 points in a rare postseason appearance, and the former All-Star guard made it clear afterward he’s not thrilled with his reduced role.
“Lot of stuff in life you don’t understand,” he said. “This [playoffs] is what I was brought here for. To not be able play and help my teammates, it’s hard, it’s rough. But I try to stay positive. I don’t try to rock the boat.”
Hamilton said he and Thibodeau have talked. Then, he reiterated, “It’s hard to understand.”
James scored 15 points and Bosh added 12 in the first half to help the Heat take a 44-33 lead at the break, but that doesn’t even come close to telling the complete story.
Miami shot less than 53 percent, with the Bulls at about 27 percent. Chicago was also 1 of 11 on 3-pointers, and the only conversion from long range came from Hamilton.
“We’re kind of putting screws and bandages everywhere. It’s frustrating,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “Every night and every day.”
The Heat and Bulls were well represented on the NBA’s all-defensive first team, with James and Noah being selected. … Thibodeau had nothing to say about the $35,000 fine from the league for comments he made about the officiating in Game 3. Asked if he was surprised by the amount, he said, “I’ve got no comment on that. We’re just getting ready for Game 4.” … Deng was listed as active after initially being ruled out for Chicago. Hinrich and Rose were inactive.