“We will not sweep Miami,” the Chicago Bulls forward said.
Nocioni might be wrong.
The Bulls are one win from sending the defending NBA champions home for the summer—in stunning style.
Ben Gordon scored 27 points, Luol Deng added 24 points and 11 rebounds and Chicago used a 15-2 fourth-quarter run to seize control of a 104-96 victory over the Heat in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Friday night.
Chicago leads the series 3-0—a cushion no team has ever wasted in NBA history—and will go for the sweep in Miami on Sunday afternoon.
“We are outworking them right now,” Bulls center Ben Wallace said. “I think we want it a little bit more than they want it.”
Entering these playoffs, 78 teams had faced 0-3 deficits. The Heat need no one to tell them that all 78 have failed to win.
“Sunday, we’ve got to just come out and play,” O’Neal said. “Our backs are definitely against the wall, but we can’t give up now. … It can be done. We just have to believe it.”
The Heat trailed by nine points with 2:33 left and got within 99-96 on a jumper by Dwyane Wade about a minute later, but no closer. They led by 12 points in the third quarter, but misfired on 19 of their 35 free-throw attempts and were outscored 32-17 over the final 11 1/2 minutes.
“It’s a different ballgame if we make them,” Wade said. “But we haven’t been a great free-throw shooting team all year.”
Wade—who shed the black sleeve he was using to keep his left shoulder, the one he dislocated in February, warm—scored 28 points and O’Neal added 23 points and 13 rebounds for Miami. But Wade was 4-for-10 from the foul line, O’Neal 3-for-12, and the rest of the Heat weren’t much better.
Meanwhile, Chicago outrebounded Miami by a wide margin (44-33) for the third straight game, plus made 29 of 37 free throws.
Kirk Hinrich added 22 points for Chicago.
“Nobody has came back from 3-0, and we don’t want to be the team that it’s done against,” Deng said. “That has to be something we’re focused on—to know this team can really pick up how they play.”
“Maybe this year, the test is the ultimate, ultimate, ultimate test,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “We have to look at it that way.”
Alonzo Mourning’s hook shot early in the fourth quarter put Miami up 79-72, but from there, it was all Chicago. The Bulls haven’t won a playoff series since Michael Jordan led them to the 1998 NBA title, but now, that drought seems like it’s about to end.
“It’s only one win. We know we have to win four instead of three,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “But in a game where we weren’t playing that well and things weren’t going our way, we were able to overcome it.”
Gordon got the game-deciding run for Chicago started with a three-point play, P.J. Brown was credited with a basket that bounced in off Walker, Hinrich followed that about two minutes later with a shot in the lane that put the Bulls up 80-79, and they wouldn’t trail again.
The Heat pulled out their best stops from last year’s postseason, including covering every seat with white fabric and encouraging fans to dress in that color; most adhered, although Terrell Owens wore black at his seat one row from the court. And the atmosphere was electric just before tipoff, just like it was back on Oct. 31, when Miami got its championship rings moments before the regular-season opener.
Chicago wasn’t fazed that night, either, winning 108-66.
The Bulls hit nine of their first 13 shots Friday to take a 23-15 lead, but Miami outscored the Bulls 29-16 in the second and took a 52-45 lead into halftime.
Midway through the third, Wade’s shoulder got perhaps its biggest test since the injury. He intercepted a pass by Gordon, headed downcourt on the break and— as he rose toward the basket—Gordon tackled him.
He got up, the crowd roared—then got progressively quieter the rest of the way. And now, Miami’s reign is in serious trouble.
“It’ll be a test of everyone and his will, everyone and his pride,” Wade said. “We have to go out there and play with the heart of a champion.”
Miami had won 26 straight playoff games when leading at halftime, the second-longest streak in NBA history. From 2000 through 2004, O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers won 40 straight in that situation. … Jason Kapono started at small forward for Miami in place of Eddie Jones, who was 1-for-7 in the series’ first two games. Posey started at small forward in the second half for the Heat. … Nocioni had a 3-point try blocked by Posey with 52 seconds left in the half, then hustled back to block Udonis Haslem’s layup 6 seconds later. … This is the fifth playoff series between the Bulls and Heat; Chicago has won Game 3 every time.