Same story, different game. The Cavs looked solid for three quarters tonight against the Bulls, then lost a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. However, this time, things reversed their fortunes for Cleveland. The Cavs, behind Andrew Bynum and Dion Waiters, were able to hang on for a 97-93 win against the Bulls, to improve to 5-12 on the season. After a rough week that saw losses to the Heat and Celtics, this was a nice way to end things.
In the first half, the Cavaliers had quite the quality offensive performance. Against a tough Bulls defense, the Cavs shot 59 percent from the field, and hit 3-7 from downtown, jumping to a 27-25 first quarter lead, and a 56-51 halftime lead. Leading the charge early were Tristan Thompson and Andrew Bynum, who smoked the Bulls interior D for 10 points apiece. The Cavs were able to generate consistent looks inside early, and the starters jumped to a 25-18 lead. The Bulls brought it back to a two-point game once the Cavs put their backups in, led by Luol Deng, who was unguardable in the first half, finishing with 14 against Alonzo Gee and Anthony Bennett.
Into the second quarter, Dion Waiters took over. Waiters hit a three, finished a nice drive to the hole, and hit two nice mid-range jumpers in his 11 minutes of play, finishing with 9. Waiters looked really fluid in the first half, and was able to take advantage of the Bulls’ injuries in their backcourt, consistently being active and getting good looks with nice off-the-ball movement. Andrew Bynum also had a huge second quarter on both ends. He got a little bit of pick-and-roll action and actually finished a couple nice rolls to the rim (!!!), and defensively, had 4 blocks, including two in the same sequence against Joakim Noah in the post. He had 12 points in the first half, and the Bulls just couldn’t answer the Bynum we’ve been waiting to see. Kirk Hinrich had 11 for the Bulls in the first half, as the point guard defense was abyssmal, but the Cavs still retained a lead.
The third quarter began with the Cavs dropping the hammer on the Bulls, stretching the lead to 69-55 within the first four minutes. This was pushed along by Bynum, who hit a couple early buckets, and C.J. Miles, who struck gold with two three-pointers in three possessions. Both were excellent plays built by excellent passing by the rest of Miles’ teammates. Deng continued to be the Bulls’ primary offensive option throughout the quarter, but the rest of the offense somewhat sputtered if Deng wasn’t the primary mover of the offense. Tony Snell also made a few nice moves late in the quarter, with 7 points in the third. However, Dion Waiters continued to go supernova on the Bulls, remaining perfect through three with 13 points, as the Cavs took a 77-66 lead into the fourth.
The fourth saw the Bulls start to chip away from the Cavs’ lead behind Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Tony Snell. The Bulls started 7-10 from the field in the quarter, and those three had two baskets apiece to bring the Bulls within three. The Cavs sputtered thanks to their usual issue: terrible shot selection, this time from Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao. The Bulls took the lead at the four-minute mark, after a Tony Snell bucket to make it 88-87. Snell clearly was in the midst of a coming-out party, dropping 18. However, the Cavs struck right back with a solid Bynum up-and-under, followed by a Kyrie strip-and lay-in on Kirk Hinrich. Dion Waiters followed that with a steal and lay-in, and the Cavs led 93-88. Deng hit a three a few minutes later to bring it within four, and that was followed by Taj Gibson free throws to make it a two-point effort. Bynum tossed up a brick with 17 seconds left, but the Bulls out-derped the Cavs, as Deng, Boozer, and Noah missed what seemed like 45 shots at the rim, and the Cavs finally pulled down the rebound. Tristan Thompson sank both free throws, and the Cavs escaped with a 97-95 victory.
Five Final Thoughts:
1. Bynum. Bynum!!!! Andrew Bynum looked vintage tonight. The big man dropped 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocks, while being hounded by Joakim Noah for basically the entire night. He worked the Bulls on post-ups. He got a few pick-and-roll looks. He was immovable in post D. All of that was completely necessary, as well. Bynum was the reason the Cavs won tonight
2. Luol Deng, however, was the reason the Cavs almost lost. Deng was the hub for the Bulls offense, with 24 points and 9 assists on the night. Alonzo Gee had no answer for Deng, and without Earl Clark, the Cavs experimented with throwing Kyrie and Anthony Bennett on Deng, because Gee was getting abused. It was a good sign for Bulls fans that Deng was able to take over like that, but for the Cavs, Gee cannot continue to be our de facto small forward defender against guys like Deng. He just can’t handle it.
3. One day, we will see the Cavs take a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter and be able to hang onto it. But at this point, I’ll take the win.
4. Dion looked solid tonight as well. He’s been really good this week, and tonight was his best showing of the season. Off the bench, Dion had 20 points as well, going 8-10 from the field. He was only in to score, and score he did. Waiters flashed the potential to be an impact scorer off the bench. Could this be his permanent role, like a Jamal Crawford? Only time will tell. For this week though, it’s looked like Waiters coming off the bench could be a better plan than having him start.
5. Finally, the Cavs offense was good tonight. They hit 47 percent from the field, only had 10 turnovers, and scored 97 points on the Bulls defense. That’s good. However, we saw one of my biggest pet peeves come alive again tonight, as Kyrie and Dion passed up multiple kick-out opportunities in favor of contested lay-ups. Now, I can understand why the Cavs are hesistant to do this. After all, outside of Earl Clark, no one on the Cavs is really going to strike fear into opponents from outside. However, When Kyrie and Dion are driving to the rim, guys like Gee, Miles, and Jack are often WIDE OPEN from outside. I’d like to see the slashers hit these guys for three-point attempts rather than barrel into the lane against three guys and hope for contact.
Anyway, the Cavs escaped with a huge win tonight. They looked great on both ends, have a winning record at home now, and held on when the Bulls had a feverish comeback attempt. Heading into Wednesday’s test against the Nuggets, the Cavs should have some momentum going forward.