Bulls feeling hot, hot, hot

There are moments in any franchise's history where teams either break through or break down.

The Bulls and Heat took divergent paths on Friday night at American Airlines Arena.

The Bulls skipped deliriously off the court, a 104-96 victory in their pockets and history on their side.

The Heat skulked off, a proud champion on its last legs.

This first-round, best-of-seven playoff series didn't end when the Bulls put a brutal second quarter behind them with a 21-5 fourth-quarter run.

But consider this: No team in NBA history ever has rallied to win a playoff series after falling into a 3-0 hole as has the Heat.

Ben Gordon rallied to score 22 of his 27 points in the second half, and Luol Deng added 24 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls broke through in a statement game, further spitting the bad taste from the collapse in New Jersey to end the regular season and two straight first-round exits out of their mouths.

"Winning this game shows a lot of maturity," Deng said.

The Bulls overcame 21 turnovers and were aided by the Heat clanking 19 of 35 free throws.

Ben Wallace, playing on a sore left ankle, bottled up Shaquille O'Neal down the stretch, holding him scoreless for the first 8 minutes 16 seconds of the fourth and to just four of his 23 points.

The Heat had taken their biggest lead at 72-60 with 3:42 left in the third as O'Neal established himself.

But Andres Nocioni, who played erratically in the first half, scored five points in a 12-4 Bulls run that closed the quarter and cut their deficit to 76-72.

After Alonzo Mourning scored the Heat's first three points of the quarter, the Bulls struck. They ripped off 10 straight points, taking their first lead since the 8:15 mark of the second quarter on a Kirk Hinrich runner with 8:46 remaining.

They extended the run to 15-2 and then 21-5 as Gordon scored 10 points and Hinrich added seven.

"Maybe last year or two years ago, we might have gotten down and been on our way to a 20-point blowout," guard Chris Duhon said.

"I think this group has matured. We knew they were going to make a run, and we kept our composure."

But the Heat, trailing by nine, made it a one-possession game when it employed a Bang-A-Ben strategy on Wallace, who made two of four free throws on consecutive possessions, and then forced turnovers by Hinrich and Gordon.

Wade, who had scored eight straight points to pull the Heat within 99-96, missed a 20-foot jumper. Hinrich added two free throws with 51.4 seconds remaining. And, after an offensive foul on Antoine Walker, Deng iced the game by absorbing a flagrant foul from Walker and draining free throws.

"This group has learned a lot," Duhon said. "We've been in two playoff situations and we understand what it takes to be successful."

Heat coach Pat Riley had made adjustments, putting James Posey on Deng to start the second half and replacing Eddie Jones in the starting lineup with Jason Kapono. Wade started on Gordon defensively.

Nevertheless, the Bulls continued their torrid offensive ways by shooting 60 percent in the first quarter and leading by as many as nine.

But the Bulls ended six straight possessions to start the second quarter with turnovers and didn't score until the 8:38 mark on a fast-break layup by Wallace.

The Heat took advantage with a 14-2 run.

The Bulls shot 6 of 21 for 28.6 percent in the quarter with eight turnovers and trailed 52-45 at halftime.

"We did a good job of continuing to fight," said Hinrich, who finished with 22 points and six assists.

"We probably wouldn't have won this game two years ago. But we stayed after it and we had it going in that fourth quarter. We were moving the ball. We've shown we're capable of this all year."

And now comes Game 4 on Sunday, another chance for a statement.

"Naturally guys are a little excited, but I was just telling my teammates:

"This [Heat] team can win four games in a row," Gordon said. "It's not over. We have to stay composed."