A late run fueled by LeBron James and Norris Cole helped the Miami Heat edge the Chicago Bulls in Game Three of the Eastern Conference semi-finals at United Center in Chicago, 104-94. The Heat lead the series, 2-1.
James, who had struggled in the first three quarters, scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. He converted just six of his 17 shots, but grabbed eight rebounds and dished out seven assists.
Cole scored two important shots in the fourth quarter. The 24-year-old guard penetrated to the hoop with four minutes remaining to score a key shot that gave Miami a four-point lead. Cole, who finished with a game-high 18 points, also hit a three-point shot with 1:47 remaining to extend the Heat lead to eight.
The Heat, who shot 50 percent from the field, also received a strong contribution from Chris Bosh. The big man scored 20 points, and pulled down 19 rebounds in 42 minutes.
Neither club was able to establish a comfortable lead until the final minutes. Miami needed a run late in the fourth quarter to hold off Chicago after beginning the final 12 minutes tied, 70-70. The largest lead for the Bulls was seven points midway through the second quarter.
Tensions have run in high the series, and Game Three was no different. After a physical Game Two, the officiating was expected to be tight with veteran referee Joe Crawford on the court. Both teams were particularly testy in the first half.
In a heated exchange in the second quarter, Bulls reserve big Nazr Mohammed fouled James, who promptly through his arm around at Mohammed. James was whistled for a technical foul, but Mohammed was ejected for retaliating with a sharp shove that sent James to the floor.
In the first quarter, Chicago center Joakim Noah shoved reserve forward Chris Andersen while he was on the floor after Andersen seemed to have his elbow lodged on diminutive point guard Nate Robinson. Noah immediately helped up Robinson after shoving Andersen, leading to a technical foul.
Carlos Boozer scored 21 points to lead the undermanned Bulls, who were without starters Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Kirk Hinrich.
Game Four is on Monday in Chicago.