MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade’s right arm had a nasty gash that left him unwilling to shoot the ball for Miami down the stretch. Omer Asik needed stitches around his chin, not to mention a Chicago jersey that wasn’t covered in his own blood.
That was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
And in Game 3, both sides expect more of the same.
“We haven’t been able to ease into anything this year,” Heat forward LeBron James said.
Don’t look for that to change anytime soon, either.
With a 2-1 series lead at stake, the Bulls and Heat renew acquaintances Sunday in Miami, ending a roughly 94-hour hiatus in the already-physical matchup. When Game 2 ended Wednesday, just about everyone in the Heat locker room had an icepack strapped to something, and more than a few limped their way to the bus that would carry them to the airport.
Just think: They were the winning side.
“Fortunately, we were able to have some days to recuperate,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our guys, they’re not shying away from it. Neither team is. Both teams have built these habits for the entire season. We’ve proven we’re an aggressive, attacking, physical defense that rebounds the basketball. … They’ve proven to be the same. So you have two things colliding into each other.”
The Bulls – the NBA’s top overall seed who no longer has home-court advantage in this series – have shown they can recover quickly. After each of their three previous playoff losses, Chicago answered with a double-digit win in the next game.
Plus, the Bulls haven’t lost consecutive games since February 5-7.
“Don’t jinx us like that,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said.
Since 2006, when the Heat won their lone title, the winner of Game 3 of the East title series has advanced to the NBA finals every time.
“This is going to be a crazy game, where I think they’re going to have a lot of confidence,” said Rose, the NBA’s MVP this season. “Some way, somehow, we’ve just got to come up with this win no matter how we get it. We’ve just got to have more intensity than them and play way more aggressive.”
Can this series get any more aggressive?
Wade seems to think it might. Scoring might be plentiful in the Oklahoma City-Dallas matchup out West, but the East likely will be won in gritty fashion.
“This is a very physical series,” Wade said. “This is a grind-out series. You look at our series compared to the other series, it’s night and day between the styles. Very physical and I’m sure both teams in between games are in the icetub, trying to get their body ready for the next one.”
The Bulls manhandled Miami on the boards on the way to a Game 1 rout, getting 31 second-chance points in the series opener. Miami cut that nearly in half for Game 2, holding Chicago to 18 second-chance points and outrebounding the Bulls 45-41.
Miami was markedly better on defense as well.
Chicago had four field goals in the final 13 minutes of Game 2, all of them by reserve Taj Gibson, and the Heat outscored the Bulls 14-10 in the fourth quarter, which Spoelstra and Miami pointed to afterward as a source of major pride.
“We have to execute a lot better,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to screen better. We have to keep the ball moving. But we have to get some easy baskets, too.”
In Game 2, that wasn’t happening.
The Bulls had 83 different quarters this season in which they scored 29 points. On Wednesday, that’s what they managed in the entire second half.
“We’re all in it together,” said James, who had nine big points in a late 11-2 run that snapped a 73-all tie and sealed the Game 2 win. “I made a few plays down the stretch. But if we didn’t continue to get stops defensively and give ourselves an opportunity to get in that position, we wouldn’t be 1-1 now.”
If anyone really enjoyed the long gap between Games 2 and 3, it was James.
He’s played at least 40 minutes in nine of Miami’s last 10 playoff games – and the lone exception was a matchup where he was six seconds shy of that. James has averaged nearly 46 minutes of playing time in the last four Heat games, yet insists he’s not wearing down whatsoever.
“I never ask him if he’s tired or if he can absorb that many minutes,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a remarkably well-conditioned athlete. In many ways, he’s a freak of nature.”
Really, the tone of this series should be no surprise.
Chicago had the NBA’s top field-goal percentage defense this season at .430. Miami was second at .434.
“We want to come back there and bounce back and get back on the right page, because things can go bad quick,” Bulls swingman Ronnie Brewer said. “You don’t want to get into a habit that one game leads to two to three losses. So you usually try to turn it around as quickly as possible.”
Rose will look for a bounceback, after shooting only 7 of 23 in Game 2. Strange as it may sound, the bigger boost for Chicago may come if Kyle Korver – off to a 2 for 10 start in the series – gets his shot going again. The Bulls are 30-4 this season when Korver scores at least 10 points, 41-20 when he doesn’t.
“I’m not going to get wide open in the series,” Korver said.
Hardly anybody is.
Even with all the star power – James, Wade, Rose, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer – the teams are shooting a combined 43 percent from the field, 31 percent from 3-point range. And both sides are convinced that Sunday night, a play here or there might be the difference.
“It hasn’t been a lot of yakking back and forth,” Wade said. “Just a lot of hard work. Who knows if it’ll get there, but you always know it’s going to be hard work between these two teams.”
Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.