The Chicago Bulls opened Game 4 with Carlos Boozer rebounding a missed Marco Belinelli 3-pointer and sticking home a point-blank putback to take a 2-0 lead. It was a pretty good start.
It was also the last time they'd hold a lead over the Miami Heat on Monday night.
The Heat ripped off an 11-0 run after that Boozer layup, led by 11 at halftime and opened up a 26-point second-half gulf before finishing off an 88-65 win over an injured, shorthanded and — on one night, at least — utterly hopeless Bulls side in what started (thanks to a post-work crowd arriving late to the comparatively early 6 p.m. local start) and finished (thanks to a painful-to-watch second-half drubbing) as an all-but-lifeless United Center.
LeBron James led the way with 27 points on 9 for 20 shooting, handed out eight assists, grabbed seven rebounds and added two steals to pace the Heat, who took a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Bulls. Miami will have a chance to close the Bulls out at home on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Chris Bosh followed up his big Game 3 outing with another strong showing, chipping in 14 points on 7 for 10 shooting, six rebounds and four blocks. Bosh controlled the game early, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and making five of his first six shots. He and James (six points in the opening frame) outscored a Chicago team that managed just 15 points on 6 for 22 shooting in the first 12 minutes.
The offensive struggles only got worse as the game progressed. Playing for the sixth straight game without both ailing swingman Luol Deng — who was, oddly and for no apparent reason, listed as active for Game 4 despite literally having trouble keeping down solid food — and still-calf-bruised guard Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls just could not consistently muster or sustain any offense whatsoever in Game 4.
The combination of sound Miami defensive work (both in the half-court and in stifling transition opportunities), sloppy Chicago playmaking (17 turnovers against just 12 assists) and very evidently dead legs conspired to lead the Bulls into some grim historical territory for the second time in this series. The bummer breakdown:
• Chicago's 65 points marked the lowest single-game total in Bulls franchise playoff history.
• The Bulls' 19 for 74 shooting performance — just 25.7 percent from the field — was also a franchise playoff-worst.
• Chicago's nine-point third quarter was the lowest single-quarter output in franchise playoff history.
• Those 19 field goals were four fewer than the previous low-water mark for made shots in Bulls postseason history, set against the Detroit Pistons on May 7, 2007, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
• This was the third time in the last 27 years (as far as Basketball-Reference.com's database goes back) that a team has scored 65 or fewer points while shooting 26 percent or less from the floor in a playoff game.
No Bull symbolized the struggle more than Nate Robinson. The diminutive point guard, who'd gone from persona non grata to folk hero for his performances, simply could not get off the schneid on Monday, missing all 12 of his field-goal attempts, matching his four assists with four turnovers and going scoreless in 32 dreadful minutes.
[Slideshow: Best of NBA playoffs second round]
Robinson was two shots shy of matching the all-time playoff record for most field-goal attempts taken without a make — Chick Reiser (Baltimore Bullets, 1948) and Dennis Johnson (Seattle SuperSonics, 1978) each missed 14 — when he was taken out with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He didn't return in the fourth. After the game, Robinson told Johnson of the Tribune that he hurt his left shoulder on this second-quarter turnover:
Robinson was replaced for the fourth quarter by rookie Marquis Teague. He missed his only two field goals and tipped a pass into his own basket. It was that kind of night, a miserable evening where the energy in a place often referred to as the Madhouse on Madison was best described in this tweet by TrueHoop's Beckley Mason:
Recap: Biggest cheer of the night from Chicago's fans came when LeBron mishandled a breakaway with the Heat up 23 in the 4th.
— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) May 14, 2013
There was one bit of cloudy sky for the Heat in Game 4: During a second quarter post-up on Bulls wing Jimmy Butler, All-Star guard Dwyane Wade appeared to reaggravate the right knee bone-bruise he's been dealing with for a month and a half and that kept him out of Game 4 of Miami's opening-round sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Wade would later return to the game, though he didn't look very good in doing so, missing seven of his 10 field goal attempts and finishing with six points, four assists and three rebounds in 29 minutes. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game the team wouldn't know how badly Wade dinged up the knee until they returned to Miami, but James acknowledged that all members of the Heat are well aware that Wade's nowhere near 100 percent right now.
Boozer, who gave the Bulls their only lead of the game, scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but shot a woeful 3 for 14 from the floor. Center Joakim Noah managed a muted six points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes, while reserve big Taj Gibson chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds. Shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who's barely been used this postseason despite the Bulls' paucity of healthy and available bodies, scored 11 points and dished four assists in 22 minutes off the Chicago bench, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau let the 14-year veteran out of his doghouse in a desperate search for an offensive spark.
Whether Rip's appearance was a one-shot deal or we'll see a repeat performance in Game 5 remains to be seen, although with the Bulls facing elimination in South Beach, it would seem like there's no choice left but for Thibodeau to play every card left in his hand. (You know, "next man up" and all.) If these Bulls — so resilient throughout the season, in defeating the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1, in shocking the Heat in Game 1 — have anything left in the tank, they'll need to bring it out on Wednesday. But if Game 4 was any indication, not only is that tank on E — even the fumes are gone.
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