THE FACTS: Neither the Heat nor the Bulls wanted to place too much importance on a game that figured to have no bearing on the standings, but it was difficult to argue which one had more on the line. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra conceded that his team was in need of a signature victory on the road, but once again, the Bulls would have none of it. Now that the Bulls have beaten the Heat and the Boston Celtics in a span of eight days, there should be no doubt as to which team is the Eastern Conference favorite.
Once again, second-chance points and the so-called Bench Mob were the difference. While Bulls starters Richard Hamilton, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose struggled from the start, reserves Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Taj Gibson came to the rescue with 17, 16 and 11 points, respectively. Watson took advantage of a defensive breakdown to convert a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds on the clock and send the game into overtime. The Heat were limited to a pair of free throws in the extra session.
The big three of LeBron James (30 points), Dwyane Wade (21) and Chris Bosh (20) did their parts, but they were left to do it alone. None of the Heat reserves scored more than three points.
THE QUOTE: “To look up and see (Watson) wide open when (Carlos) Boozer caught it … I tried to make a play on it, going from guarding (Hamilton) in one corner. He made a tough shot. That play hurt. We never recovered from that shot.”
THE STAT: In his second game in 31 days, Rose displayed some serious rust and watched the overtime period on the bench. The reigning Most Valuable Player misfired on all except one of his 13 field goal tries, and his team was outscored by 27 points while he was on the court.
THE QUOTE II: “I’m not worried about my stats. I’m just trying to get my rhythm to get ready for the playoffs, get my timing back. My shots were not falling, but my teammates had my back. Our confidence will be high after this win.”
THE STAT II: The Bulls increased their lead to four games in the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs.
THE QUOTE III: “It’s tough. You reach these moments at times when you feel like you put so much into it collectively but can’t get over the hump. We talked about it right before the game. We said, ‘There is no easy road. What we’re trying to do will be the hardest thing that we’ll have to do collectively.’”
TURNING POINT: The home team trailed late in the third quarter, 58-48, when Thibodeau took Boozer (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Rose out of the game. With Gibson and Watson in lead roles, they went on a 12-4 tear to get back in the game.
THE QUOTE IV: “They give us great flexibility because you can start them or bring them in off the bench. Now that everybody has gone back to their accustomed roles, for the bench guys, that’s not a big adjustment for them.”
– Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau
GOOD MOVE: Gibson arrived only 75 minutes before the tip-off because of heavy traffic en route to the stadium, but he redeemed himself in 28 productive minutes.
BAD (STOMACH) MOVE: Udonis Haslem was a late replacement for Ronny Turiaf at center, and the Heat veteran provided the hoped-for jolt of energy at the outset. But a case of the stomach flu limited him to 11 minutes, as he sat out the second half.
HOT: Next time the Heat may want to defend the three-point line, beyond which the Bulls drained 11 bonus balls in 22 tries. Korver was unconscious, as he flushed 5-of-6 three-pointers, the last of which came from the vicinity of Wheaton in overtime.
NOT: The backcourt combination of Hamilton and Rose, who combined for nine points and six turnovers. Both sat out extended periods this season, and coupled with a lack of practice time because of the condensed schedule, they haven’t had sufficient time to build chemistry between them.
INSIDE THE ARENA: Former Bulls star and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was among those in the sellout crowd.
NOTABLE: This season the Heat have yet to win a game at the United Center, where they will have do so at least once if the two teams meet in the playoffs. … At an average yield of 88.9 points per game, the Bulls are in position to surpass the team record (88.6) that was established in the 1997-98 campaign. … The Bulls have above-.500 records without All-Stars Rose (16-7) and Luol Deng (7-2).
UP NEXT: Miami plays Charlotte on Friday, at New York on Sunday, and at New Jersey on Monday. Chicago plays at Detroit on Sunday, at home vs. Washington on Monday, and at Charlotte on Wednesday.