CHICAGO — LeBron James and the Miami Heat didn’t even give the Chicago Bulls room to breathe, practically squeezing the playoff life out of them to take a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Another effort like this will seal it.
James scored 27 points and the Heat nearly matched a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a playoff game, pounding the listless and short-handed Bulls 88-65 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
“We worked for it,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “I never like to say that things are easy.”
The Heat sure made it look that way, though.
The 65 points allowed were only two more than the all-time postseason low for a Miami opponent, and it was easily the worst offensive performance by a Chicago team in the playoffs.
Never before had the Bulls scored fewer than 69 in a playoff game nor 10 or less in a quarter during the postseason, but both those marks fell on a night when they were dominated on both ends of the floor.
Miami led by 11 at the half and put this one away in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 17-9 in the period.
Now the Heat will try to wrap up the series at home Wednesday night, taking what they hope will be the next step toward a second straight championship.
It’s hard to believe the Bulls won the series opener the way the past three games have gone.
Miami pounded Chicago in Game 2, coming away with its most lopsided playoff victory while handing the Bulls their worst ever postseason loss — and the Heat continued to roll from there.
James had his usual complete game with eight assists and seven rebounds Monday.
Bosh finished with 14 points after scoring 20 and grabbing 19 rebounds in Game 3, and the Heat won again despite another quiet night from Dwyane Wade (six points), whose right knee was bothering him again. He appeared to land hard on it taking a fallaway jumper in the third quarter but was able to return to the game after getting re-taped.
“It’s frustrating at times, but you just try to do what you can,” Wade said.
Norris Cole also struggled with seven points after back-to-back 18-point performances, but the Heat had more than enough in this one.
They shot about 49 percent while the Bulls set a franchise playoff low at 25.7 percent. Chicago was particularly bad from the outside, going 2 for 17 from 3-point range.
The Bulls again were missing ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf), and a team that kept finding ways to win despite being short-handed all season simply appeared to run out of steam, even though coach Tom Thibodeau rejected that idea.
“No,” he said. “I think the thing is (the Heat are) a great team. We have to come out with great intensity — but we also have to make shots.”
There’s no denying the Bulls have been in a tough spot all year with Derrick Rose recovering from knee surgery and just about every other major player sidelined at some point. They’ve been hit particularly hard in the postseason, too.
“They’re in a tough situation,” James said. “They’ve had some injuries and illnesses and whatever’s going on. They don’t have their full roster, but that’s not for us to worry about. They beat a very good Brooklyn team (in the first round) without their full roster.”
Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double in the postseason but was just 3 of 14 from the field. Jimmy Butler scored 12 and Joakim Noah grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a miserable night for Chicago — particularly Nate Robinson. With Cole and Mario Chalmers harassing him and the big men helping out, he missed all 12 of his shots and did not score.
JAMES, ALLEN HEADLINE SQUAD: LeBron James and Memphis guard Tony Allen headline the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
The league announced Monday that Allen received 53 points in the voting, while the Miami Heat star had 52. Each player had 25 first-team votes from the NBA’s 30 head coaches.
The pair were joined on the first team by Clippers guard Chris Paul (37 points), Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (46), Knicks center Tyson Chandler (24) and Bulls center Joakim Noah (24).
Marc Gasol, who was the NBA’s defensive player of the year, made the second team. He was joined on that squad by Celtics guard Avery Bradley, Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, Spurs forward Tim Duncan and Pacers forward Paul George.
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