In one key way, the Eastern Conference Finals have been a lot like the Western Conference Finals — it has been about the fourth quarter.
Miami has turned up the defensive pressure late and the Bulls have wilted in the final stanza. In the fourth quarter of the last three games the Bulls have shot 32.7 percent and been outscored 64-47. The fourth quarter is when LeBron James has switched on to Derrick Rose and the result is Rose shooting 2-of-11 in the last three fourth quarters combined.
Desperate and down 3-1 and heading back home for an elimination game, look for the Bulls to have a better fourth quarter, to finally close out a game well. They had better, or this series is over.
Back at home, look for the Bulls role players to feel more comfortable and play better. For one, expect Taj Gibson has to give the Bulls more, both on defense and in transition. Also Kyle Korver has to hit a shot — the Bulls still need to knock down some threes and long twos to make the Heat pay for packing the paint on them.
Expect to see the same out of the Heat bench we saw last game — Erik Spoelstra has gone to a tight eight-man rotation with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the only guys seeing big minutes off the bench. Both have played well but can that continue under pressure on the road? Probably, especially with Haslem, who has been what the Heat needed inside. The Bulls need to force Miami deeper into that bench by getting some guys in foul trouble, either by the penetration of Rose or some other guys stepping up.
One interesting matchup to watch is Joakim Noah over on Chris Bosh — something the Bulls made a priority of in Game 4 (and should have worked harder to do in earlier games rather than letting him get switched off so easily). Bosh has been the best Heat player in a couple games, doing a great job of mixing midrange shots with drives, and if he is again the Bulls will not be headed back to Miami.
At some point soon, Dwyane Wade is going to go off. He has not looked himself this series and was doing a lot of extra shooting and work Wednesday. If Game 5 is when he does go off there will be no Game 6.
On the flip side, who is going to take the pressure off Rose? Carlos Boozer you say? Well, they need him. But they need someone to create their own shot and be a better outside shooter in this series. Miami has been able to pack the paint and wall off Rose because they do not fear the outside shot of the Bulls. That is particularly true in the fourth quarter.
The Heat are the better team and they have closed games better. But this is still a close series — Rose drains that fadeaway over LeBron and this series is even. That’s not how it went down, but these two teams are close. Close enough that the Bulls have hope — win Game 5 at home, steal one on the road and suddenly it’s one game for all the marbles.
But to get there, the Bulls need to be desperate. They need to knock down shots. And they need to close out the fourth quarter better. Because you know the Heat will.