Chicago trails its series against the Miami Heat, 2-1, and in two of the three games Tom Thibodeau's team put itself in fine position heading into the homestretch. It's never easy to outdo a team with the best playmaker in the NBA during the final minutes of a contest, but the Bulls did it in Game 1 and were in the right place to do so in Game 3 before Miami made big shots to pull away for a 104-94 win.
Suddenly the Bulls are on their heels despite being the bigger bully in this series -- no pun intended. Here are three questions that must be asked heading into Monday's Game 4 in the United Center. The answers will lend evidence to whether the Bulls can tie the series or if the Heat will be looking at a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Can Carlos Boozer continue acting as an offensive threat?
As much of a defensive liability as Carlos Boozer might be because of his struggles to defend pick-and-rolls and his lack of rim-protecting ability -- heck, even his rebounding has been poor -- the Bulls benefitted from getting a team-high 21 points out of their big man in Game 3. The scoring negated a breakout game from Miami's Chris Bosh and it was something dearly missed on a night when the Heat got more than one great contribution from those not named LeBron.
If Miami can't get much from a clearly injured Dwyane Wade and if Norris Cole finally goes cold, then having that extra offensive threat could put the Bulls in prime position to tie the series at two games apiece.
Will Chicago stay within an arm's length of Miami?
Keeping the Miami freight train from gaining steam has been done in Games 1 and 3, but in Game 2 the Heat got chugging along and there was no stopping them. While it's not a sure bet Chicago can pull out fourth-quarter games against Miami, their forte is winning strings of defensive possessions whereas Miami's is in putting down backbreaking runs before playing defense in the final five minutes of the game. The Heat aren't bad at all under such pressures, but the Bulls can't have it all. A little luck is needed, and to get it, they'll need to keep their eyes out for Miami roundhouse kicks. Controlling the tempo is key.
Does Miami get enough guys going?
Norris Cole has been his best in the Eastern Conference semifinals series, but that's overshadowed the inconsistent outputs from role players such as Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Wade, at least relatively to what he's capable of doing.
Sure, the Heat preach about their knack for different players stepping up, but the chance for none to get going is there, especially against a very good defensive team like Chicago. And if that happens, the margin for error becomes thin enough for the Bulls to have a shot of pulling the upset.
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Odds: The Heat opened as a 7.5-point favorite.