CHICAGO -- It wasn't a Game 4 win for Miami so much as it was Day 4 of the siege. The Bulls were protecting their honor, even as their self-made Alamo was doomed to fall. Dwyane Wade was limping off the court, briefly, and the Heat looked forward to ending their own misery against an opponent that makes nothing feel easy.
The Heat's 88-65 win gave them a 3-1 lead with the chance to close out this Eastern semifinal Wednesday in Miami. The fewer games they can demand of Wade and his sore right knee, the better for their chances of defending their championship through the two rounds to come. "He's giving us everything he's got," said coach Erik Spoelstra after watching Wade go three-for-10 to finish with six points in 29 minutes. "He's giving us minutes that help us win."
This game was already in hand -- despite an unexpected three by Richard Hamilton (his first basket in 26 days) to bring the Bulls within 30-20 -- when Wade limped off the floor with 7:12 left in the second quarter. On the bench he was holding his knee and shaking his head as the doctor leaned over him. "Just shooting pain," said Wade, who admitted to similar aggravations of the bone bruises in his knee, though in those cases he had been able to mask the pain. "It's the first time y'all been able to see it," he said with a grin.
At that stage Wade was 0-for-four with two assists and two turnovers. His teammates had tried to involve him in the early going after watching him attempt a single shot in the opening half Friday on his way to going five-for-seven overall in their Game 3 win. This time Wade's knee was retaped and he returned for the final 3:36 of the quarter, missing a lefty drive to finish the half 0-for-five. All the same, the Heat were up 44-33 at the half thanks to strong openings by Chris Bosh (12 points while going six-for-seven with three blocks in the half) and LeBron James, who finished with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 43 minutes.
"We got his back as a team," said James of Wade. "I definitely pick it up even more. I know what he's going through. I'm around him each and every day, even when we're not playing basketball. It's difficult for him, but he hasn't made an excuse -- just try to give us what he's got right now until it starts to feel better."
Wade has now had two single-digit outings in his last five playoff games. He sat out a game in the previous-round sweep of the Bucks, and he's averaging an uncharacteristic 12.3 points in the postseason. It was the potential for difficult moments like this that helped bring James, Wade and Bosh together in Miami in 2010. Each had learned that he couldn't carry his team, especially during a physical breakdown, such as the injury James suffered in the 2010 playoffs when his top-seeded Cavaliers were upset by Boston in the second round.
"My last year in Cleveland I had an elbow injury that lingered throughout the whole playoffs," said James. "You just try to go out there and give it all you got. It sucks because you know you can play much better. You know you can do things, but the injury's not allowing you to do it -- and it was my shooting arm. It was very tough. I know what he's going through and I'm just happy I'm able to pick it up for him, and everybody else is doing the same."
From the beginning of this early 6 p.m. local start, the United Center was spotted with hundreds of temporarily unoccupied seats and empty of the passion of Game 3. The Heat ran out to an early 11-2 lead as the Bulls missed 12 of their first 13 shots and committed five early turnovers. With Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich remaining sidelined, there was a sense of farewell, and not even the introduction of Nazr Mohammed to open the second quarter could get the people going. They wanted to cheer, but they couldn't suspend their disbelief.
The Bulls' heroic underdogs went back to producing like their former selves. As a team they shot 25.7 percent overall (two-for-17 on threes). Carlos Boozer had a grossly inefficient double-double (team highs of 14 points and 12 rebounds) while going three-for-14. Joakim Noah was one-for six. But they knew their mission was hopeless when Nate Robinson was frigid early on his way to a scoreless 0-for-12 night.
Robinson's jump shots were wide left (including one uncontested airball) and his drives were all rim and no net. When he missed yet another banker to leave his team down 58-42 with 2:39 remaining in the third, he walked back to a timeout with his head down. The Bulls returned to the floor to see Marco Belinelli (0-for-five from the arc) airballing a three of his own, and he stood rubbing at his face as if it had been slapped.
Then Norris Cole drilled a three (his 11th in 15 torrid playoff attempts) at the buzzer to show his hosts how easy it ought to be. That made it 61-42 entering the fourth -- a lead that was insurmountable, given that the Bulls had yet to score 19 points in any of the three quarters.
The frontcourt trapping of Miami combined with Cole's defense to squelch any hope of another miracle by Robinson, who had stolen Game 1 in Miami with a driving comeback in the final minutes. "He was amazing," said James of Cole, the second-year guard. "I think it's about time for him to start getting his dues for what he does defensively. It's a lot of young guys that I believe are very good defensively -- Paul George, Iman Shumpert -- and I think Norris Cole should start to become in that conversation for what he does on the ball each and every night. His defensive intensity allows the bigs to not do so much because he's always in front of the ball."
Afterward there was much talk from Spoelstra and his players of closing out Game 5 with a sense of urgency, and it was not insincere. They've had their fill of this opponent and coach Tom Thibodeau, who does so much with so little. Plus, they know Wade needs to stay off his feet.
"Other than the turnovers," said Spoelstra, of which there were 17, "for the most part we played to our identity."
They were able to express themselves, and this was the point the Heat were trying to make: They don't want to come back here until next season.