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James, hot Cole push Heat past Bulls

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- The series has been ugly at times with all the physical play, but Miami backup guard Norris Cole has found perfection. Cole knocked down three baskets from 3-point range and is now 8 for 8 from behind the arc in three games.

Teammate LeBron James scored 25 points as the Heat pulled away late for a 104-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.

Miami took a 2-1 lead in this second-round NBA playoff series, with Game 4 set for Monday in Chicago.

Chris Bosh had his best game of the series for the Heat, producing 20 points and 19 rebounds. Cole finished with 18 points and Dwyane Wade scored 10.

"You can't win a championship being pretty and shiny," Bosh said. "You have to get dirty. You're going to have to play physical. You have to dive on the floor. People forget that two years ago we were a half-court, grind-it-out team."

Miami took the lead for good with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and put things away when James and Cole knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. The second basket lifted the Heat to a 96-88 lead with 1:58 remaining.

"I work a lot with coach Dan Craig every night back in Miami," Cole said of his hot shooting. "I have my shooting session late at night. I just am putting up a lot of reps and understand the spacing of our team."

Chicago pulled within six points on two Jimmy Butler free throws, then James drove the lane, hit a bank shot and completed a three-point play to make it 99-90 with 1:23 remaining.

Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 21 points, and Nate Robinson and Butler scored 17 points each. Joakim Noah added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Miami went ahead 83-78 with 6:24 left -- its largest lead of the game to that point -- when Wade found an open lane for a drive and dunk.

The teams exchanged a few baskets. Then with the Bulls trying to cut into a five-point deficit, Noah won a battle for an offensive rebound against Bosh. But Noah was called for a foul and the Heat pushed the lead to 90-83 with 3:15 remaining on a couple of Bosh free throws.

Noah eventually fouled out with 16.6 seconds left. Chicago guard Marco Belinelli and Miami's Shane Battier also fouled out.

Missed free throws were costly to the Bulls. They went 17 of 25 at the foul line, compared with 26 of 30 by Miami. After the game, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau complained about not getting calls, focused mostly on Butler guarding James and the loose-ball foul late in the game against Noah.

"When you play this team, you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness," Thibodeau said. "Things aren't going to go your way. That's the way it is. We're not going to get calls. That's the reality. We've still got to find a way to get it done and we can."

The third quarter was tight throughout. The home fans got a kick out of James getting a fast-break reverse attempt blocked by the 5-foot-9 Robinson. The teams headed into the fourth quarter knotted at 70.

After the teams combined to pile up nine technical fouls, two ejections and one flagrant foul in Game 2, no-nonsense referee Joe Crawford showed up to work Game 3.

He didn't have much of a calming influence. The first scrum of the night broke out with 23.5 seconds left in the first quarter. Noah got a technical foul for shoving Miami's Chris Andersen after Andersen fell on top of Robinson.

Early in the second quarter, Chicago backup center Nazr Mohammed was ejected for a two-handed shove that knocked James to the floor. James was in the process of getting a technical foul for elbowing Mohammed when the two collided near midcourt.

The Heat shot 51.4 percent from the field in the first half to build a 52-50 lead at intermission. The largest lead before halftime was seven points by the Bulls.

NOTES: Despite rumors to the contrary, injured Bulls star Derrick Rose did not suit up for Game 3. After missing the entire season recovering from knee surgery, Rose is unlikely to play in this series but hasn't ruled it out. ... Chicago forward Luol Deng missed his fifth straight game after having a bad reaction to a spinal tap administered last week. Guard Kirk Hinrich missed his sixth game with a calf injury. There is no word on when either player might return to game action. ... Bulls forward Taj Gibson was fined $25,000 for verbal abuse of an official as he was being ejected from Wednesday's Game 2. Gibson received two quick technical fouls early in the fourth quarter. ... A common foul by Miami guard Mario Chalmers in Game 2 was reportedly upgraded to a Grade 1 flagrant by the league office. Chalmers struck Noah in the neck area after the two collided on a screen set by Noah. ... Miami's 37-point win in Game 2 was the third-largest margin of victory in playoff history by a team trailing in the series, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The biggest winning margin is a 133-75 romp by Minneapolis over St. Louis in 1956.
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