James leads Cavs past Bulls
LeBron James scored 40 points and took over in the fourth quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers, fueled by a rabid home crowd that booed every move by Noah, maintained home-court advantage by beating the Chicago Bulls 112-102 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
James added eight rebounds and eight assists for the Cavs, who led 96-93 with 4:30 left before the league’s soon-to-be-two-time MVP decided to dominate. He dropped a three-pointer over Noah that he capped with a quick dance move and wink toward Chicago’s bench, made two free throws, a layup and two jumpers, scoring 11 straight as Cleveland opened a 107-98 lead with 1:36 left.
Noah, who criticized Cleveland’s lack of downtown activity between Games 1 and 2, had 25 points and 13 rebounds. Derrick Rose added 23 points and Luol Deng had 20 for the Bulls.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Chicago.
Antawn Jamison scored 14 points and Jamario Moon made four 3-pointers for Cleveland, which looked much more out of sync than in Game 1. Shaquille O’Neal, a force in the opener, scored eight points and played only 15 minutes.
James spent the first 3:26 of the fourth on the bench getting rest. When he returned to the court, the Cavs were clinging to an 85-82 lead over the Bulls, who were giving top-seeded Cleveland all it could handle and were intent on evening the best-of-seven series.
With the Cavs up three points, James then pulled up for his three-pointer over Noah, who had criticized Cleveland’s superstar for dancing on the court during a game earlier this season. James, though, gave a little shoulder shake after his basket and then capped his personal outburst with a jumper over Kirk Hinrich just before the 24-second clock expired.
“In Game 1, I was very hesitant and trying to feel out the defense too much,” said James, who went 16 of 23 from the field. “They were giving me the jump shot and I just wasn’t taking it. I watched a lot of film from Game 1 and knew as soon as I caught it they would back up and I could get an opportunity to shoot a jumper.
“I just had to take it.”
The Bulls, who pushed Boston to seven games in the opening round last season, did a much better job rebounding and were more physical than in Game 1.
But Chicago had no answer for James. No one does.
He delivered one of those did-he-really-do-that dunks in the first quarter, a soaring slam over Chicago’s James Johnson that could be one of the best – and most ferocious – of his career.
Staring from the left side, James drove to his right past Johnson down the foul line, reached back like a baseball pitcher looking for more velocity on his fastball and powered his jam over a stunned Johnson as Cleveland’s sellout crowd gasped and then erupted.
The dunk shook the backboard, not the Bulls.
They trailed by 10 points early in the second quarter, but worked their way back with extra effort, especially on the offensive glass.
Noah grabbed four of Chicago’s eight offensive rebounds in the first half, resulting in 13 second-chance points. Anthony Parker’s 3-pointer put the Cavs up 50-44, but with O’Neal on the bench after picking up his third personal, Noah scored six straight points as the Bulls pulled within 52-50 at halftime.
“They kept scrapping,” James said.
During an on-court TV interview, James lamented the easy baskets the Bulls were getting and promised the Cavs would “clean up our defense” in the second half.
The Bulls, though, still got to the rim and only James’ outside shooting saved Cleveland.