CHICAGO – Nate Robinson has been doing a Derrick Rose impersonation for the Chicago Bulls lately, which is tough enough against a Miami Heat defense that often makes life miserable for the real McCoy. But where that really hurts Chicago is off the bench, where no one is available to mimic Robinson’s instant offense and energy in reserve.
The closest thing this Eastern Conference semifinal series has to a Robinson impersonator, in fact, comes from the Miami side. His name: Norris Cole. The Heat’s backup point guard scored 18 points in the home rout of Game 2, but backed that up with 18 more – in far more clutch circumstances – in Miami’s 104-94 Game 3 victory Friday at United Center.
The flat-topped point guard in his second season from Cleveland State played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and, with seven points, outscored everybody in Chicago’s lineup in the period. Cole’s driving finger-roll with four minutes left got the Heat’s cushion to four points and his 3-pointer two minutes later bumped the lead to 96-88, essentially the game-winner.
“Norris is a tough competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “He was most noticed for his 3s and driving down the lane tonight, but he made big plays for us all night.”
Cole, with starter Mario Chalmers, has made life difficult for Robinson the past two games, throwing traps at him and working to get or keep the ball out of his hands. The 5-foot-9 irrepressible force hustled his way to 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds but needed 42 minutes to get them; Cole worked more in Robinson’s normal range and ratio, his 18 points coming in 24:27.
“He kind of got hot late,” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said. “When you’re playing with three future Hall of Famers, guys are going to get open looks. … That team has a lot of guys playing with a lot of confidence.”
Shooting that way, too. Cole has taken eight 3-point shots in the series so far and made them all. He has hit 10-of-13 this postseason, including the four-game sweep of Milwaukee in the first round, and he is shooting 64.1 percent overall (57.7 on 2-point attempts).
“I think it’s just the reps,” Cole said of his accuracy after Game 3. “I work a lot with coach Dan Craig before practice and every night back in Miami. I have my shooting session late at night. I just am putting up a lot of reps and understand the spacing of our team. And have the confidence to knock it down.”
Last year, Cole averaged just 8.9 minutes in the Heat’s 19 playoff games, his role diminished by Spoelstra’s use of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as de facto point guards. This postseason, Chalmers and Cole (22.3 mpg) have handled their position and duties more fully, with the backup earning his increased responsibility.
“With experience comes comfort,” Cole said. “I’m seeing things more than one time and I’m able to adjust.”
The Bulls have seen Cole as a problem for two consecutive games now. They’d better be able to adjust.