Bosh carries Heat over Bulls 96-85 for 2-1 lead

MIAMI (AP) — Chris Bosh has fought the perception all year. He’s the third wheel, the forgotten star, the one who would never shine alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Miami Heat never saw it that way.

This was why.

Bosh made 13 of his final 15 shots on the way to a 34-point night, James finished with 22 points and 10 assists, and the Heat remained unbeaten at home in the postseason by beating the Chicago Bulls 96-85 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.

A 9-0 run in the fourth quarter helped Miami pull away for good and grab a 2-1 lead in the series.

“C-B had it going,” James said. “And when we have someone going on our team, we continue to give the ball to him and continue to feed off their energy offensively. And he brought it home for us tonight.”

Game 4 is Tuesday in Miami.

Wade added 17 points and nine rebounds for Miami, which is 7-0 at home in the playoffs and handed the team that finished with the NBA’s best record its first losing streak since Feb. 5-7. Udonis Haslem sealed it with a jumper with 1:29 left, putting Miami up 93-84.

Wade was the one who got the phone call that started putting the move toward a Miami “Big 3” into overdrive, when Bosh dialed him up last summer and said, “I’m feeling Miami.” With that, Wade decided to stay with the Heat, and James made his decision to join them a day or so later.

They came together to win titles and are two wins away from heading to the NBA finals.

“Obviously, I’m very happy for him,” Wade said. “A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it’s been to make the adjustment, to play with two other players who dominate the ball so much. Some games he gets it, some games he doesn’t, so to find a flow, to find a rhythm, sometimes it’s tough.”

Not on Sunday, it wasn’t.

Bosh missed his first three shots, and never worried. He was in a rhythm. He was catching the ball where he wanted. And then midway through the first quarter, he finally saw the ball go through the hoop for the first time.

“That was good enough for me,” Bosh said.

And more than good enough for the Heat.

Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds for Chicago, which had won the first four meetings of the season with Miami. Derrick Rose had 20 points, but struggled from the field again, making only 8 of his 19 shots.

The Bulls held James and Wade to a combined 12-of-30 showing from the floor. Against Bosh, they had no answer.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Rose said. “Our will wasn’t there tonight. They still found a way to win.”

Against the NBA’s top field-goal percentage defense this season, Miami shot 51 percent and scored 53 points after halftime. Plus, the Heat were 25 of 29 from the foul line, while Chicago was 16 for 21.

“Rebounding was good,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Challenging their shots wasn’t.”

That was especially true for one critical stretch of the fourth quarter, when Miami turned a four-point game into one where it had full control. The 9-0 spurt, capped by a three-point play from James with 5:07 left, was all it took to give the Heat an 87-74 edge, and the margin never was less than seven again.

So, meet the leading scorer in the East finals.

It’s not Rose, Wade or James. It’s Bosh — who took a bit of heat before the series began, when Boozer was quoted saying that Miami has only two great players, a clear nod toward the Heat having a so-called “Big Three.”

“I always have respect,” Boozer said Sunday night, asked about Bosh’s game. “I never didn’t have it.”

It’s mildly ironic that they’re going head-to-head in this series, given how last summer went.

The Bulls and Boozer agreed on a five-year deal worth around $80 million, those talks wrapping up almost simultaneously with Bosh — who was a Chicago target last summer as well — deciding to join Miami.

On Sunday, Bosh could have taken a victory lap after the two-great-players comment by Boozer. He declined at first, then acknowledged it got to him.

“You can find inspiration in all kinds of different ways,” Bosh said. “But I mean, it does nothing but help.”

Boozer made a pair of free throws with 6:39 left to pull Chicago to 78-74, the outcome clearly hanging in the balance. Minutes later, that was no longer the case — not after Miami scored nine straight to build more than enough of a cushion.

It was a rough day all around for Chicago.

The Bulls spent part of their pregame debunking a report by ESPN The Magazine, which quoted Rose saying the league had a “huge” issue with performance-enhancing drugs in a story published earlier this month. Rose denied it Sunday, saying he does not recall being asked that question and insisting that he does not believe the NBA has a problem.

Another issue for the Bulls popped up in the first quarter. Joakim Noah went to the bench after picking up his second foul with 6:26 left, and after taking a seat television cameras showed him appearing to direct a profanity toward someone seated nearby.

“I got caught up,” Noah said. “A fan said something and I said something back. I apologize.”

The NBA did not comment on either matter.

Notes: Heat C Joel Anthony had five blocks. ... Noah missed all four of his shots. ... Heat C Jamaal Magloire turned 33 on Saturday, and was the fourth Miami player to have a birthday in a nine-day span, joining Mike Bibby (33), Eddie House (33) and Mario Chalmers (25). Bulls reserve and former Heat swingman Rasual Butler turns 32 on Monday.

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