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Thursday, May 26, 2011

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Temperature's rising: Heat forward LeBron James backs down the Bulls' Ronnie Brewer during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday in Miami. The Heat took a 3-1 lead in the series with a 101-93 victory. AP

Big 3 brings Heat within one win of reaching finals


MIAMI — Dwyane Wade missed a dunk in the first quarter. He didn't score in the second half. He was slow at times, sluggish at others, barely a factor for long stretches of the game.

That is, until it mattered most.

The Big Three is one win away from playing for the NBA's biggest prize, and all three had a huge hand in putting the Miami Heat on that doorstep.

LeBron James scored 35 points, Chris Bosh added 22 and Wade perked up to block as many shots — two — as Chicago made in overtime, as the Heat topped the Bulls 101-93 in a scintillating Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

"You could tell that neither team wanted to lose," Wade said. "Both teams were clawing. If you're a fan of the game, this was a great basketball game. . . . This was will."

Miami will go for the clincher Thursday in Chicago, where the Heat can wrap up their first finals trip since 2006.

"It's one game away," James said. "We're not taking anything for granted."

Derrick Rose scored 23 points for the Bulls, who got 20 apiece from Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. Chicago has lost three straight games for the first time this season, and afterward, the league's reigning MVP pointed the finger of blame at himself.

"It's not over," said Rose, who shot 8 of 27 and turned the ball over seven times.

Still, some doubt may be creeping in. Chicago had its chances, and knew it, but was unable to take advantage of a largely off night by Wade. Rose was guarded in the game's biggest minutes by James, and the MVP past had the upper hand against the MVP present.

"It's extremely hard," Rose acknowledged, "when a 6-8 (203-cm) guy can easily defend you."

The Heat were down by 11 early, led for only 4½ minutes in the third and fourth quarters, and had Wade stuck on eight points from late in the second quarter until past the midpoint of overtime.

Somehow, it wasn't a problem. A sleep-deprived Mike Miller — whose wife delivered a baby last week — scored 12 points and made plenty of key defensive plays to help Miami outscore Chicago by a whopping 36 points with him on the floor.

And the stars, well, were stars.

"We know offensively, at times, we have rough stretches," James said. "But we give ourselves chances to win every game because we defend."

James was 11-for-26 from the field and 13-for-13 — his best playoff showing ever — from the foul line. Bosh was aggressive again, making 10 of his 11 free throws. Miami made its last 24 straight from the stripe, and the defense was again the biggest key of all.

"Defense is the reason that we're here," Bosh said. "Defense is the reason that we win every game. And defense is the reason why we have a chance of winning Game 5."

From the Miami perspective, this game will be remembered for how the Heat rallied around Wade — then watched him save his best for last.

"We reminded him in one of the final huddles, this is his time," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The 2006 NBA Finals MVP was in the arena late Monday night, trying to work on some things in one of his customary playoff after-dark sessions.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. This seemed like it would be the latter.

Whatever answer he sought, he didn't find for much of Game 4. Wade made just 5 of 16 shots from the field, lacking his usual lift at the rim. He made a pair of free throws with 1:50 left in the first half for his seventh and eighth points, and didn't score again until overtime.

Better late than never.

"Hey, they're a great team," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They compete. They play hard. They play great defense . . . and they made plays at the end."

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