Miami Dwyane Wade was ailing, so LeBron James and Chris Bosh more than picked up the slack.
Then Wade found his groove at the perfect time, and the Miami Heat, the team put together solely to win championships, moved one emotional victory away from the NBA finals.
James scored 35 points, Bosh added 22 and the Heat beat the Chicago Bulls, 101-93, on Tuesday night, taking a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Game 5 is Thursday in Chicago, when the Heat can wrap up their first finals trip since 2006.
“Even though it took an extra five minutes, we held serve,” James said.
Wade went scoreless for nearly 33 straight minutes, before making a jumper with 2:08 left in overtime to help Miami keep the lead. He had two blocked shots in overtime, and after James made a contested jumper with 29 seconds remaining for a six-point lead, Derrick Rose’s layup was swatted away on the next Chicago possession.
At long last, it was over.
“My teammates kept telling me that I would make the biggest play of the game,” Wade said. “They told me to stick with it, stick with it — and I did. The game is not won in the first minute, it’s won in the last so I stuck with it and was able to do some things to help us get a victory.”
Bosh scored the first four points of overtime, and the Heat — now 8-0 at home in the playoffs — never trailed in the extra session. James closed it with two free throws with 1.4 seconds left, his 12th and 13th of the night, all without a miss. Bosh was 10-for-11 from the line, and Miami outscored Chicago, 32-17, in that department.
The Heat made their final 24 free throws.
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.
But what this game will be remembered for was how the Heat rallied around Wade — then watched him save his best for the very end.
“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 five 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.
That was just the start for the Heat.
“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.”
Chicago turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, Wade turned the second of those into a layup with 1:01 left for a 95-89 lead, and the Heat soon knew they were one win away from the title round.
Mike Miller scored 12 for Miami.
“I’m going to learn from it,” said Rose, who tried to take personal blame for the loss.
The fourth quarter was pure theater, both teams clearly knowing — clearly relishing — the stakes.
Miami scored the first seven points for a 70-69 lead. Chicago took the lead back on a pair of free throws by Rose with 6:34 left, and Miami answered with a four-point possession — two free throws by Bosh after a flagrant foul against Boozer, followed by Miller making a jumper over Rose for a 78-77 edge.
Back and forth from there, with the lead, the momentum, control of the series, all seeming to turn every time the ball crossed midcourt.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Miller said. “I’ve been waiting for a game like this.”
Rose had a chance with 28 seconds left, his jumper from the left side hitting the rim and eventually being corralled by Miller. The Heat called time with 23 seconds left, 18 seconds on the shot clock, everyone in the building probably thinking the play would be set up for James.
It was. And it never got a chance for liftoff.
Referee Bennett Salvatore called James for an offensive foul with 8 seconds left, saying Ronnie Brewer beat him to the spot as the two-time MVP tried to back down the right side of the lane.
So instead of winning the game late in regulation, James had to send it to overtime with defense. He guarded Rose on the final possession, forcing the Chicago guard into a taking a jumper that fell way short, and off to an extra 5 minutes they went.
“Just came up short,” Rose said.
Rose finished 8-for-27 from the field, with seven turnovers.
“All I can do now is put it behind me and go forward,” Rose said.
A day after being fined $50,000 for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan in Game 3, Bulls center Joakim Noah had six points and 14 rebounds in 45 minutes. And there seemed to be very little, if any, unusual rancor from Miami fans toward Noah.