MIAMI -- The Heat look as if they're steadily pulling away in this Eastern Conference final, beating Chicago a second straight time to take a 2-1 lead going into Game 4 on Tuesday. Here are some observations from Miami's 96-85 victory:
Bosh hit a number of uncontested shots from the elbow and was able to upfake his way into the lane. By the time Joakim Noah got around to challenging him, it was too late to stop him from canning flat-footed, head-fake jumpers or to prevent him from rolling to the hole. "I have to attack with no hesitation," he said. "I try to set guys up, and if they crowd me I go by them. If they're far off me, I trust my jumper enough to let it go."
Throughout this first season in Miami, Bosh has been focused on contributing to the Heat defensively, and at the other end of the floor he has been learning to blend in without sacrificing too much. In Game 1 he scored 30 points in a loss, giving credence to his critics who claim he isn't crucial to Miami's success. In Game 2 he managed a scant 10 points (4-of-8 shooting) in 42 minutes in Miami's win at Chicago. Bosh has heard all of the talk that he isn't so much a member of the Big Three as he is the third wheel. "I really don't care for it," he said politely. "If it's not positive, I don't listen to it."
The truth is that Bosh -- unlike Wade and James -- had never played beyond the first round before this year, and he has been adapting to the demands of a title contender. His play in this game was another sign of a player finding his way and adapting to the moment, and his teammates know they could not hope to win a championship without him. James and Wade were looking to feed Bosh throughout this tight victory. "It was encouraging to see that level of trust," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "They wanted the ball to go to him. We needed him to be aggressive. Easy shots and opportunities in this series are hard to come by, and he was able to take a little bit of the pressure off the other guys to get some baskets.
"But it's taken awhile for guys to feel comfortable and confident in their role, while at the same time being able to read a game. Because each game is different. The next game somebody else might be called upon to be aggressive based on how it's going."
Going into the series, Bosh took offense when Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer described Miami as having two great players. "I think about it when I'm shooting," said Bosh. "It helps me get some extra reps up."
Said Dwyane Wade, who contributed 17 points and nine rebounds: "I was glad he said that about Chris. We're glad he got that challenge. He's responded to it."
"Every pick and roll they were doubling me," said Rose. "So just got to find a way to sometimes beat it. I've been trying to beat it with the pass. Try to be more aggressive."
To their credit the Bulls aren't making it easy for Miami. Though the Heat controlled the play, they weren't able to expand their lead to double digits until midway into the fourth. Two key plays were made defensively against Rose -- the first when Wade drew a charge, the second when James intercepted an interior pass to finish a three-point play at the other end to stretch the advantage out to 87-74. "They definitely hurt," said Rose of those turnovers.
This was an example of an exceptional player influencing the game without scoring in big numbers. Not only did James help create for Bosh and others, he was tremendously active on defense, helping into the lane to contest numerous layups and force Chicago into bailout shots or violations at the end of the 24-second clock. "Once their defense is set, you have to get them moving," said Thibodeau. "We can't allow the clock to wind down on us."