By ANDREW SELIGMAN
CHICAGO — Welcome to the Eastern Conference semifinals, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer.
All but absent the first two games, the big men for Miami and Chicago asserted themselves in a big way in Game 3 on Friday night.
Bosh scored 20 points and hauled in 19 rebounds to help the Heat beat the Bulls 104-94 victory. Boozer wasn’t bad, either, with 21 points for Chicago, but it was Miami coming away with a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Monday at the United Center.
A big reason the Heat won on Friday was Bosh stepping up on a night when the other “Big Three” struggled. LeBron James was off target for most of the game before coming on strong down the stretch to finish with 25 points and Dwyane Wade was a nonfactor.
Bosh, however, got going early on. He knocked down shots from the baseline and top of the key. He hit a 3-pointer, too. But he was also active on the glass, finishing one rebound shy of the Heat’s postseason record. It was the sort of performance Miami envisioned seeing on a more regular basis when it formed that superstar triumvirate back in the summer of 2010.
“I try to move around as much as possible,” he said. “Dwyane and LeBron, they’re very unselfish basketball players. They’re going to be making a lot of plays for us and Mario (Chalmers) as well. I try to mix it up a lot. I try to space. I try to dive. I try to get behind the defense to get easy buckets, but if I move to the open spot, usually they find me. Those are my opportunities to be aggressive. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot or make the extra pass if need be. We’ve been playing together awhile, and seeing the same situations over and over, you can just kind of feel the game and know where to go.”
That aggression has been questioned. He tends to fade at times, blend in rather than assert himself. It was that way in the first two games of this series, when he scored nine and then 13 points, but it was a different story for him on Friday.
Same for Boozer.
“There’s a lot of different ways he can score — running the floor, going to the offensive boards, ducking in, facing up,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he did a combination of all those things. I thought that got him into a rhythm.”
He clearly had his best game of the series and was involved from the start after scoring a total of 14 points in the first two. Some of that had to do with him simply being more aggressive, but it was also clear that the Bulls were looking for him.
That’s something they would be well advised to keep doing. Boozer can dominate on offense in stretches, and with Luol Deng still recovering from his illness and Kirk Hinrich recovering from a calf injury, the Bulls are short a few scorers.
That’s where Boozer can help.
He had arguably his best season since joining the Bulls in 2010, averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, and he played well against Brooklyn in the first round of the playoffs. But he also needs his teammates to get him involved.
Hinrich’s injury has forced the Bulls to go with a shoot-first point guard in Nate Robinson, and if the ball’s not moving, that can mean fewer opportunities for Boozer. The Heat’s defense also had a hand in that the first two games, but Boozer was able to get going early on in Game 3.
When he’s aggressive on offense, when he’s going to the rim rather than settling for fadeaway jumpers, it opens up opportunities for his teammates. He did just that against Miami. He asserted himself, called for the ball.
“I do that at times, but Coach Thibs is our general,” Boozer said. “He calls plays and adjusts to what the defense is doing and keeps them honest. We just run our playbook.”
Bosh, meanwhile, was doing what the Heat needed him to do.
When he wasn’t converting on offense, he was cleaning up with 14 defensive rebounds and helped limit the second-chance points for Chicago. Yes, Miami managed just four, but a Bulls team that ranked third in the league in that area wasn’t much better with 14 points on Friday.
“We’ve been talking about that for the whole series,” Bosh said. “Playing a team like this, they really thrive off of second-chance opportunities. Working hard for the rebound is going to be extremely important, and that goes in with playing defense. It’s all tied together. You get stops. It’s extremely hard to stop them, and you don’t want to deflate yourself by giving up offensive rebounds. I think every person took it upon themselves to do a better job. The ball just found me a little bit more than usual tonight.”