CHICAGO — For close to 48 hours, Tom Thibodeau preached composure, saying the Bulls couldn’t lose focus to extracurricular shenanigans or officials’ calls.
Following Technicalapalooza from Wednesday’s Game 2, the NBA sent noted taskmaster Joey Crawford to officiate Friday’s Game 3.
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 and a possible suspension.
When the ejection and elbows cleared, the Heat had stolen back homecourt advantage with a gritty 104-94 victory at a bloodthirsty United Center. Game 4 is Monday night. Bring battle gear.
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 managed just 10.
Norris Cole’s 18 points helped the Heat to a 36-8 bench advantage as coach Tom Thibodeau, despite Nazr Mohammed’s ejection and starters’ foul trouble, rode a short rotation that featured Jimmy Butler going the whole way again.
Game 2 brought nine technical fouls, two ejections and two flagrant fouls. But while Friday brought just one ejection, it hearkened back to a different era for its blatant, in-your-face nature.
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.
The league surely will review the Mohammed incident from what suddenly has become a throwback series.
Earlier, Joakim Noah drew the game’s first technical when he shoved Chris Andersen off of Nate Robinson after Andersen landed on top of Robinson following Andersen’s foul. Andersen retaliated with an errant kick attempt towards Noah, who, to steal his Game 2 phrase, wasn’t being very Zen.
“You can’t allow how the game is called to take away from the things you have to do,” Thibodeau said. “We have to stay disciplined. We can’t overreact.”
The Bulls seemed in the Heat’s head for awhile. Noah clapped and smiled as Bosh chewed out Mario Chalmers during third-quarter free throws. Nate Robinson forcefully blocked James from behind on a fast break, jazzing the crowd.
But the Heat kept their poise.
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-pointer.
But James and Cole sandwiched 3-pointers 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 starters in double figures. Noah fouled out with 15 points and 11 rebounds.