Bulls sputter on offense, lose to Heat 96-85

Nearly an hour before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals,
Derrick Rose found himself on the defensive.

Facing a small knot of reporters at his locker, the NBA MVP
denied telling ESPN the Magazine the league has a steroid
problem.

A distraction? Maybe. But Rose and his Chicago Bulls teammates
were backpedaling for much of the night Sunday, and they lost to
the Miami Heat 96-85 to fall behind in the series 2-1.

After starting the season 4-0 against Miami, the Bulls have lost
two in a row. For the first time since Feb. 5-7, they’ve lost
consecutive games.

”Our will wasn’t there tonight,” Rose said. ”We’ve just got
to find a way to win the next game.”

Smothering defense by the Heat and 34 points by Miami’s Chris
Bosh were too much for the Bulls to overcome. Also hurting Chicago
was a slow start by Rose after he addressed reports the magazine
quoted him as saying the NBA has a ”huge” problem with steroids
and needs ”a level playing field.”

”That’s something I didn’t say. I guess (the reporter)
misunderstood what I said,” Rose said. ”On to the game.”

When it started, the Bulls were out of sorts. The opening tip
went deep into their backcourt, and when Rose tried to gather the
ball with his right hand, he dropped it out of bounds. Moments
later, a steal by the Bulls was negated when the ball touched an
official.

The Bulls shot 6 for 24 while scoring only 15 points in the
first quarter, and their frustration quickly became apparent. As
center Joakim Noah sat on the bench, TV cameras showed him
directing what appeared to be an obscenity toward someone
nearby.

”I got caught up,” Noah said. ”A fan said something and I
said something back. I apologize.”

Rose and Carlos Boozer were a combined 2 for 13 in the early
going. Boozer came on strong after that and finished with 26 points
and 17 rebounds, but Rose needed 19 shots against the Heat to score
20 points.

”Every pick-and-roll, they’re doubling me,” Rose said. ”I’ve
just got to find a way to beat it.”

Chicago shot only 41.6 percent and had eight shots blocked,
including five by Joel Anthony. For the second game in a row, all
five Bulls starters shot below 50 percent, and sharpshooter Kyle
Korver scored only three points off the bench against the Heat.

”They’re a very good defensive team,” Bulls coach Tom
Thibodeau said. ”You have to try to get in transition and get some
easy scoring opportunities.”

At the other end, the Bulls’ big defenders couldn’t keep up with
Bosh, who shot 13 for 18. When he slipped past Boozer for dunk in
the fourth quarter, Bosh pounded his chest and shouted, ”Come
on!”

The Heat keep coming. And now the Bulls, who had the NBA’s best
regular-season record, find themselves two losses from
elimination.

Game 4 is Tuesday in Miami.

”We feel like we had chances to win both of these last two
games,” Boozer said. ”We’re not frustrated to the point where
we’re not going to keep fighting. That’s not our character. We are
a tough-minded team, a tough group of guys, and trust me, we’ll be
right back at it in Game 4.”

The Bulls shot poorly from the perimeter, and when they tried to
penetrate, their path was usually cut off. Typical was a drive by
Rose in the fourth quarter, when he lowered his shoulder, ran over
Dwyane Wade and was called for offensive foul.

A Heat breakaway with five minutes left further summed up the
Bulls’ futility. LeBron James found himself in the open court
against Korver, who backpedaled furiously, tried to grab James and
instead fell at his feet as the Heat star scored for an 86-74
lead.

Chicago, the league’s top defensive team this season, gave up 53
points in the second half.

The Bulls tried to show spunk. Keith Bogans got into Wade’s face
for some trash-talking in the third quarter, and Chicago briefly
took the lead. But after Boozer’s dunk tied the game at 53, the
Bulls failed to score on their next four possessions.

Miami scored seven consecutive points, led the rest of the way
and shot 50.7 percent.

”You’re going to miss shots,” said Rose, who went 8 for 19.
”But our defense was the key to the game. We call ourselves a
defensive team. Fifty percent is not going to work against a team
like that.”