By THOMAS JOHNSON
LeBron James may have been suffering from the flu the last few days, but it was Chicago fans who felt sick after game two.
Miami rebounded from its worst loss of the postseason by producing some of its most inspired basketball.
Udonis Haslem not only played the role of inspirational figure, but gave the Heat exactly what it needed on the hardwood.
After being promoted from tailored suit to sweat suit last round, Haslem had been playing the role of supportive, yet sporadically playing sub superbly.
But he was anxious.
The co-captain was dying to play meaningful minutes. Not the three garbage minutes in game one when the outcome had already been decided.
But of course Haslem said all the right things, even though it was clear to just about everyone how desperately he wanted to be playing, not watching.
Haslem got his chance last night and did everything in his power to remind Erik Spoelstra just how valuable he can be to this team.
Although his numbers (13 points, 5 rebounds) tell part of the story, they don’t tell you everything.
Certainly not the inexhaustible hustle. The grit. The aggression.
Qualities that had been sorely lacking last game, Haslem brought in boatloads.
His two dunks captured it best. Haslem did his best Taj Gibson impression, first slamming on Keith Bogans, and then jumping over Derrick Rose.
Surgically repaired foot? What surgically repaired foot?
It’s no coincidence that Miami out-rebounded Chicago for the first time all season.
Also key to the Heat winning the battle of the boards was Haslem’s University of Florida roommate, Mike Miller.
Like Haslem, Miller was given his first stretch of meaningful minutes all postseason and responded with seven rebounds.
No, the jump shot might still not be there, but the hustle never left.
STUBBORNESS PAID OFF
After game one there were many, including yours truly, who thought Spoelstra needed to make a lineup change, by playing a more physical presence like Erick Dampier.
Instead, Spoelstra felt confident in what he had and felt and believed that the “Big Three” could make up for any shortcomings.
Many were skeptical.
“Me and D-Wade are athletic enough, we’re aware enough to see where the ball is going off the rim, to go get it,” James told reporters before the game.
The two certainly backed up those words.
After combining to grab only nine rebounds in game one, James pulled down 10 and Wade had nine.
Wade also put forth the kind of two-way effort he displayed in the Boston series.
Given the assignment of defending Derrick Rose for large portions of the second half, Wade helped limit Rose to 7-for-23 shooting and effectively kept him out of the paint.
James somehow fought through his cold symptoms to not only play 46 of a possible 48 minutes and the entire second half, but also limit Luol Deng to 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
Spoelstra kept telling James that he could not allow himself to feel tired. James responded.
Such performances make you wonder how any basketball analyst could question his competitive drive.
His play has reached another level lately.
There may not have been a picturesque game-winning shot yet, but his ability to go for the jugular and turn one-possession games into double digit victories should be enough to silence the silly “clutch gene” discussions.
If you’ve been watching these playoffs closely, you can’t argue that James hasn’t been the best closer outside of Dirk Nowitzki.
For the third time in four games, James controlled the fourth quarter and made the key plays to close out the game.
With the eyes of the basketball world watching and many hoping he falls short, James has been consistently composed.
He’s so close to that ever-elusive ring that he’d be able to smell it if his sinuses weren’t clogged.
Miami did exactly what it had to do in Chicago – take one game.
Now, having stolen home court advantage, should the Heat simply hold serve at home, it will be just one win away from the Finals.
To do so, Miami has to play at the ridiculously high level it has reached only in the most desperate of situations.
This Bulls team requires nothing less.
Game one should have provided enough of a wakeup call. There shouldn’t have to be another.
By Sunday, Miami will have had enough time to recover and replenish.
Enough time for the team to channel another Herculean Haslem effort.
That’s what it will take.