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Bulls falter down stretch, lose Game 3 to Heat

Caption
The Heat's LeBron James (left) heads to the hoop as the Bulls' Nate Robinson tries to stop him Friday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at the United Center. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO – The Bulls held LeBron James in check for much of the game, and Dwyane Wade only attempted seven shots. They failed to keep track of Chris Bosh, and he made them pay for it.

Carlos Boozer scored 21 points to lead a balanced performance by the Bulls, but Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds to power the Miami Heat to a 104-94 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday night.

"We had a very good shot to win," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "It just didn't bounce our way."

James made a clutch 3-pointer with 2 minutes remaining and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Miami reclaimed home-court advantage while taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Monday night in Chicago.

The Bulls had all five starters score in double figures but hurt themselves by going 17 for 25 from the free throw line. Jimmy Butler scored 17 points, Marco Belinelli had 16 and Joakim Noah finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

"We have to close out quarters better," Boozer said. "We did a decent job, but we were giving away free throws. I thought we played well at times tonight. We just have to clean up some things and get the win on Monday."

Boozer made a free throw with 4:14 left to trim Miami's lead to 85-83, but Norris Cole responded with a layup for the Heat and Bosh made three foul shots. James' 3-pointer extended the advantage to 93-86 with 2:35 remaining, and Cole also had a big 3 down the stretch.

Cole led a strong performance for Miami's reserves, who outscored their counterparts 36-8. Cole had 18 points, and Shane Battier finished with nine.

"Norris is a tough competitor," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He was most noticed for his 3s and driving down the lane tonight, but he made big plays for us all night."

The Bulls and Heat returned to the court for the first time since Miami's 115-78 victory on Wednesday night, but the day off and change of scenery had no effect on the increasingly feisty tone of the series. Game 2 featured nine technical fouls, two ejections and one flagrant foul, and they picked up right where they left off in that one.

The first technical of the night went to Noah, who pushed Chris Andersen off Nate Robinson after the diminutive point guard was knocked down on a drive late in the first quarter. Andersen tried to kick Noah as he pulled Robinson away and both teams converged on the scene.

But that little mishap was nothing compared to an ugly sequence that started when James was fouled by reserve Nazr Mohammed near midcourt with 9:29 left in the first half. James was hit with a technical after he shrugged off the lumbering center, who got up and pushed the NBA MVP to the ground. Taj Gibson and Andersen then got tangled up in the resulting skirmish while coaches Tom Thibodeau and Spoelstra came onto the court to try to restore order.

"I sat right there when my teammates helped me up," James said. "I mean way too much, way too much to my teammates to try and retaliate. Don't make no sense. I'm here to play basketball."

Mohammed was ejected for the shove, a minor nuisance for a Bulls team already missing Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose due to injuries. Thibodeau threw his hands up in disgust after the referees' decision was announced.

"From my angle, I just saw a guy flop," Thibodeau said. "I'll leave it at that. Nazr is a big part of our team. He normally gives Jo a rest, but we had to extend his minutes. Nazr is a big part of our rebounding, especially offensively.

"I watched some of the plays of (Udonis) Haslem and Andersen and just don't get it. I don't think it merited ejection, a flagrant foul, yes."

Mohammed also felt the ejection was an overreaction.

"I mean there's been a lot of plays that didn't get ejections and a push shouldn't get an ejection," he said. "I'm disappointed in myself also because my son probably was watching the game. I don't want him to see that type of behavior on the court. But I'm also disappointed that it warranted an ejection for something like a push when I got pushed down first."

Bosh had 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, and Miami led 52-50 at the break. He finished with 14 defensive rebounds, helping the Heat to a 39-37 advantage on the glass — a key statistic in this rough-and-tumble series.

"You can't win a championship being pretty and shiny," he said. "You have to get dirty. You are going to have to play physical. You have to dive on the floor. You have to do things that are extremely tough."

NOTES: Gibson was fined $25,000 by the NBA for an outburst at a referee in Game 2. "I knew I was going to get hit," he said. "I was just hoping it wasn't a suspension, but I deserved (the fine)." ... Devin Hester and Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears received a loud ovation when they were shown on the videoboard in the first half. ... Thibodeau said the results of a second MRI on Hinrich's bruised left calf were "basically" the same as the first. "He's improving," Thibodeau said. "That's a good sign." ... James was 6 for 17 from the field.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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