There were a lot of names that were believed to make a difference in this series. But it was highly unlikely that Norris Cole would be at the top of the list. For the second consecutive game, Cole did his best to change that perception.
Following his 18-point performance in Game 2, Cole, in his second year out of Cleveland State, came up big again with 18 on six of seven shooting including three three-pointers in 24 minutes of play. Moreover, Cole’s shots all seemed to come at critical points as he had a big role in quieting a raucous United Center crowd.
Case in point occurred late in the game. With the shorthanded Bulls stubbornly refusing to go away with just over four minutes left and the Heat only up 85-83, Cole’s drive to the basket, slicing through Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson, was a successful layup and the Heat stretched their lead out to four and Chicago would never get any closer in the Heat’s 104-94 triumph.
Just over two minutes later with the Heat up five, Bosh found Cole outside the three point arc and Cole drained the shot. He let out a roar and got a big hug from James, perhaps correctly sensing the end was near for this night.
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It was that kind of night for Cole who was hot from the start. When he entered the game he took the lead of his teammates who shot 61 percent in the opening period. To add to the hot shooting, Cole buried a three from 23 feet on his first attempt to tie at 24.
Then in the second period, Cole, who was ironically enough drafted by the Bulls in 2011 and immediately traded to Minnesota. Cole’s three pointer midway through the second quarter which came immediately after fellow benchmate Shane Battier’s three squashed a Chicago rally following the fracas with James and Chicago center Nazr Mohammed. Those two threes sparked a 22-13 stretch for the Heat to close out the first half to give them a two-point lead at halftime.
The Heat also received other critical minutes from Chris Andersen who came up with two field goals early in the fourth quarter and Battier tossed in nine as his defense annoyed the Bulls.
The Heat may be known for James, Wade and Bosh but a strong bench is always necessary for a championship drive.
Two of the Big 3 noted as much before the game.
“It’s always a key for us when our bench plays well,” James said. “When they produce we know we are having a good game.”
Wade liked what he saw in getting open shots in the two games in Miami and believed a good bench night just might be coming a few minutes before tipoff.
“I thought the first two games we did a good job of penetrating,” Wade said. “The reason why [the Bulls] are a great defensive team is because they protect the paint very well. We got great looks but we haven’t shot it the way we would love to, but if those shots continue to be there, our shooters are going to knock them down and that is going to be a plus for us.”