CHICAGO -- Imagine the National Guard deployed to militarize the perimeter of the basketball court in the expectation of more mayhem. Uniformed police officers with nightsticks are serving as the game’s officials. The whole spectacle plays out surrounded by an octagon cage.
Apocalypse now: Heat vs. Bulls, second round, 2013 NBA playoffs.
If any series invites such dark hyperbole, it’s this one. And Game 3 here Friday night did little to change that or tamp out the lit-fuse feel of what’s been happening, and what still might.
It’s the volatility that will fill the highlight reels and postmortems Saturday — the shocking sight of Heat superstar LeBron James shoved violently to the ground as a howling, hating Bulls crowd spit its venom.
That isn’t what made Miami’s 104-94 victory for a 2-1 series lead most remarkable, though.
Neither LeBron nor Dwyane Wade played particularly well, and the Heat won anyway, on the road, by double digits.
Give the depleted Bulls credit for their no-quit fight despite missing Derrick Rose (still) and two other key players. But give the Heat players more credit for demonstrating they are as tough as they are talented, and resourceful, too, finding heroes elsewhere even on a night when LeBron finished strong but was only 6-for-17 shooting and Wade, his right knee still not quite right, was held to a quiet 10 points.
So in stepped Chris Bosh, the third of the Big 3 but the biggest Friday night, with 20 points and a huge 19 rebounds.
And in stepped little Norris Cole, with 18 points off the bench including 3 for 3 on three-point shots.
The uncommon sight of Cole on the interview podium was amusing, like watching the understudy accept the Oscar.
“I stay prepared,” a smiling Cole said of the spotlight suddenly on him. “It’s the playoffs. That’s really the only intensity you need.”
Bosh, Cole and a clutch fourth-quarter by league MVP James are mainly why this series’ home-court advantage swings back in Miami’s favor now with Game 4 back in Chicago Monday night. The Heat have put themselves in a position to win this in five games back in Miami – and neither of the past two games suggest they won’t.
For sure, this grudge series will leave both team bruised no matter how long it lasts.
That is the brutal beauty of this rivalry, and why a crowd-hushing result like Friday’s tastes so sweet to anybody who cares about the Heat.
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them,” as LeBron summarized before the resumption of the pugilism. “That’s how it is.”
The pretense of Game 1 civility collapsed in a chaotic Game 2 wrought with more technical fouls (nine) than in any NBA playoff game since 1995. There were two flagrant fouls. Bulls Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson got ejected – Gibson later fined $25,000 for “verbal abuse” of a ref.
We were just getting’ started.
The testosterone was still at a high simmer Friday night.
It boiled late in the first quarter when Chris “Birdman” Andersen’s block and foul on little Nate Robinson and collapse onto him led to a near-melee that had coaches spilling onto the floor. Noah – who else? – drew a technical foul for shoving Bird off Robinson.