CHICAGO: LeBron James scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter on Friday to lead the Miami Heat to a 104-94 victory over Chicago in another bruising contest in their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.
Reigning NBA champions Miami took a 2-1 lead over the Bulls in the best-of-seven series, which continues on Monday at Chicago.
Chris Bosh added 20 points and a playoff career-high 19 rebounds for the Heat. Norris Cole added 18 as Miami followed up their 115-78 blowout victory on Wednesday by pulling off a close one.
The game was tied 70-70 after three quarters, but Miami outscored the Bulls 34-24 in the final period to gain the victory.
James connected on just 6-of-17 from the floor, but hit all 11 of his free throws. He added eight rebounds and seven assists for the Heat.
“Well, nothing’s going to be easy in this series and this is another example of that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just have to find a way. We didn’t play particularly well, a lot of that had to do with Chicago.
“In the fourth quarter we found a way, even if it wasn’t the prettiest way, to get this win.”
After a testy game-two, Chicago reserve Nazr Mohammed was ejected from the contest in the second quarter, after playing less than three minutes, for shoving James.
Mohammed had halted a James breakaway and was whistled for a foul.
James was slapped with a technical for pulling his arm away from Mohammed, who fell.
The intervention of the officials, however, didn’t placate Mohammed, who got up and shoved James, who fell to the floor.
Spoelstra shrugged off the incident as “inconsequential,” but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was clearly irked.
“From my angle, I just saw a guy basically flop,” said Thibodeau, who could ill-afford to lose a man.
Once again Chicago were without forward Luol Deng and guard Kirk Hinrich. Britain’s Deng, their top scorer in the regular season, has yet to recover from complications from a spinal tap. Hinrich is out with a calf injury.
Joakim Noah has been key, but Noah has battled a painful foot injury this post-season.
“Nazr is a big part of our team, he gives Jo a rest, so we had to extend Jo’s minutes,” Thibodeau said. “He hasn’t done anything but go out there and play hard.
“I didn’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand flagrant foul, I understand that, but ejection, no.”
Carlos Boozer had 21 points for Chicago. Noah scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler chipped in 17 points each for the Bulls.
In the other Eastern Conference second-round series, the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers are tied 1-1, with Indiana hosting game three on Saturday.