For close to 48 hours, Tom Thibodeau preached composure, saying the Bulls couldn’t lose focus to extracurricular shenanigans or officials’ calls.
After Technicalapalooza in Game 2 on Wednesday, the NBA sent noted taskmaster Joey Crawford to officiate Game 3 on Friday.
And then the Bulls went all Bad Boy-era Pistons on the Heat. That meant both the good – toughness and tenacity – and the bad: ejections, a possible suspensions fines for criticizing officials.
When the ejection and elbows cleared, the Heat had stolen back home-court advantage with a 104-94 victory at a bloodthirsty United Center.
Chris Bosh’s monster game of 20 points and 19 rebounds offset a mostly passive night from LeBron James, who missed 11 of 17 shots before taking over late for a game-high 25 points, and Dwyane Wade, who scored just 10.
Norris Cole’s 18 points helped the Heat to a 36-8 bench advantage as Thibodeau, despite Nazr Mohammed’s ejection and starters’ foul trouble, rode a short rotation that featured Jimmy Butler going the whole way again.
With 9 minutes, 29 seconds left in the first half, Mohammed lined up James on a fast break and delivered a hard chop personal foul, which drew a retaliatory elbow from James and a Crawford-issued technical on James.
Mohammed immediately came after James and shoved him hard to the ground, drawing his own technical and ejection after video review.
“From my angle, I just saw a guy basically flop,” Thibodeau said. “And I’m going to leave it at that.”
But he didn’t.
“He hasn’t done anything but play hard,” Thibodeau said of Mohammed. “I’m watching some of the plays with [Udonis] Haslem and [Chris] Andersen, and I don’t get it. I didn’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul. But an ejection? Nope.”
“I’m disappointed in myself because I let my teammates down,” Mohammed said. “And I’m also disappointed because my son probably was watching the game, and I don’t want him to see that type of behavior on the court.”
Earlier, Joakim Noah drew the game’s first technical when he shoved Andersen off of Nate Robinson after Andersen landed on top of Robinson following Andersen’s foul. Andersen retaliated with an errant kick attempt toward Noah, who, to steal his Game 2 phrase, wasn’t being very Zen.
The Bulls seemed in the Heat’s head for a while. Noah clapped and smiled as Bosh chewed out Mario Chalmers during the third quarter. Robinson forcefully blocked James from behind on a fast break, jazzing the crowd.
But the Heat kept their poise, making big plays late.
Noah drew a huge – and borderline – over-the-back call on Bosh with 3:15 remaining that led to Bosh free throws and a seven-point lead. Marco Belinelli, big all night with four 3-pointers and 16 points before fouling out, swished another 3.
But James and Cole sandwiched 3s around a Boozer basket for the Heat’s biggest lead with 1:48 left. James then placed the exclamation point on matters by barreling his way to a three-point play with 83 seconds left.
Carlos Boozer’s 21 points led all five Bulls starters in double figures. Noah fouled out with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re going to have to play our best game on Monday,” Thibodeau said. “When you play this team, you need a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness. We’re not going to get calls.”
Star of the game: Chris Bosh, Heat, 20 points, 19 rebounds
Up next: Game 4, Heat at Bulls, 6 p.m. Monday
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