The Bulls played like steely veterans, unruffled to the end in bringing out the worst in the Miami Heat.

They picked apart the Heat from start to finish for a 109-90 victory Thursday night at the United Center in Game 3 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. The Heat leads 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 here Sunday.

"It's still going to be hard," Bulls forward Andres Nocioni said of his team's chances to win the series. "It's going to be hard, but it's not impossible."

The Bulls have a firm grasp on the possibilities. Last year they blew a 2-0 first-round lead to the Washington Wizards and lost the series in six games.

"I imagine we're going to see the best Miami has," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.

Thursday they saw the worst, including antics that bordered on ugly.

The Heat's James Posey appeared to resort to thuggery when he knocked down Kirk Hinrich with a whack of his shoulder with 3 minutes 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

"I was just getting back on defense," Posey said. "He didn't see me coming. It was a collision, and that's all it was. It was nothing intentional."

Hinrich got up quickly and was held back from confronting Posey, who received a Level 2 flagrant foul and was ejected. Posey faces a fine and could be suspended. Hinrich was asked if Posey was looking for a fight.

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe."

Six seconds after Posey was tossed, an angry Antoine Walker fouled out, offended a referee and also was hit with a technical. Udonis Haslem was next. On the same possession, he irked a referee for a technical. Haslem missed Game 2 while serving a one-game suspension for throwing his mouth guard in disgust toward a referee in Game 1.

"At the end, I noticed they were a little angry and frustrated, but that's to be expected," Nocioni said.

Shaquille O'Neal had to settle for the best seat in the house for most of the game.

Saddled with foul trouble, the behemoth from Miami mostly watched from the bench as the Bulls salvaged their dignity.

O'Neal looked slow, and Alonzo Mourning looked even slower. Mourning, who is in his 13th NBA season, had been out the last month because of a torn right calf muscle.

At least for one night, Miami's imposing front line didn't look so tough. Actually, it looked a little clumsy, especially with O'Neal traveling and stepping on the end line for a violation in the fourth quarter. The Heat had 19 turnovers, seven by O'Neal.

The Bulls victory was so convincing, they made most of Dwyane Wade's 26 points look inconsequential.

Indeed, the Bulls were impressive from the get-go. Gordon had a sweet finger roll, and Hinrich scuffed the floor while fighting Michael Doleac for the ball.

Every Bull got into the act as Skiles used all 12 players on the active list. Skiles has said all season he needs more than just one or two players to carry the team. This game illustrated his point perfectly.

The Bulls had five players in double figures. Gordon led with 24, Hinrich added 22, Luol Deng 21, Nocioni 19 and Michael Sweetney 10.

They even might have impressed Michael Jordan, who watched from a luxury box and gave a slight salute to fans.

He had to be impressed with the Bulls' poise and their lead that swelled to 21 points.

There wasn't much to say about Miami, except that Skiles expects the Heat to regain form Sunday.

"They didn't play like they did in Miami," Skiles said. "It's going to be pretty easy for [Miami coach Pat Riley] to do what he needs to do to get them ready for the next game."

mxgarcia@tribune.com