Bulls top Cavaliers, back in first place
December 5, 2012, 9:21 pm
CLEVELAND—It was more difficult than necessary, but if dragging out a seemingly inevitable, 95-85 Bulls (9-8) victory over the Cavaliers (4-15) at Quicken Loans Arena is what Marco Belinelli needed to get going, it might have been worth it. The free-agent acquisition had his best night of the season Wednesday and though the effort wasn’t the 48-minute effort the team strives for, it was a nice bounce-back game after a gut-wrenching loss the previous evening at home.
Starting in place of sidelined veteran Rip Hamilton for the second straight night, backup shooting guard Belinelli (23 points) was aggressive from the outset—scoring from the outside and even in the post, using his size advantage to knock down a fadeaway jumper over Cavaliers' counterpart Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, who was starting for injured rookie starter Dion Waiters—and helped the visitors jump out to an early lead. In fact, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently thought so highly of Belinelli’s start that he pulled a shocker: Luol Deng (22 points, seven rebounds), the league’s minutes-per-game leader, not Belinelli, came out of the game when second-year swingman Jimmy Butler checked in late in the opening period.
With balanced scoring from the other starters—including Joakim Noah (13 points, 15 rebounds) and Cleveland doppelganger Anderson Varejao (11 points, 15 rebounds) virtually canceling each other out—and reserves Butler and Taj Gibson not missing a beat upon entering the contest, the Bulls, making a gaudy two-thirds of their shots and limiting their hosts to making just a third of their attempts, easily surged to a double-digit advantage. After a quarter of play, the Bulls were ahead, 27-11.
While the Bulls cooled down offensively in the second period—though Belinelli knocked down his first shot of the frame before getting a well-deserved breather after scoring 12 first-half points—the visitors continued to give a stout defensive effort, ensuring that the Cavaliers wouldn’t get any easy opportunities. Additionally, the guests appeared to make a concerted effort to take better care of the ball—a bugaboo all season, as well as a slight issue in the first quarter—which prevented Cleveland from getting out in transition, their best method of scoring without their young backcourt of reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and the aforementioned Waiters in action.
The Bulls continued to cruise, maintaining their comfortable winning margin and while they weren’t perfect, they generally played the mistake-free brand of basketball that Thibodeau prefers. With forwards Deng and Carlos Boozer (10 points, 12 rebounds)—the latter, whose first NBA team in Cleveland, didn’t exactly receive a warm reception—making positive offensive contributions, starting floor general Kirk Hinrich (11 points, eight assists) capably handling playmaking duties and backup point guard Nate Robinson providing his usual spark off the bench, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 45-35 lead.
Cleveland made a push after the break, with Varejao’s rebounding and help on the interior from second-year big man Tristan Thompson, leading the way. But the Bulls were prepared for a potential run and with Belinelli’s hot hand persisting—at least until he picked up his fourth foul midway through the period, giving way to Butler—as well as Deng starting to get going and Noah’s high activity level yielding strong work on the glass against a similarly energetic opponent in Varejao, the visitors clung to their breathing room.
The likes of Gibson and reserve guard Donald Sloan joined in the Cavaliers’ comeback effort and when rookie big man Tyler Zeller made it a two-possession contest, 64-59 in favor of the Bulls, with 1:51 to go in the third quarter, it officially became a ballgame. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were up 72-63, following Hinrich scoring the last six points of the period for the visitors.
The fourth quarter started somewhat ominously, with Gibson picking up his fourth foul and Noah subsequently drawing a technical, already his fifth on the young campaign. But no matter how tenuous the Bulls’ control of the game appeared, they surreptitiously built up their lead, behind contributions from the likes of Deng, Noah, Robinson and of course, Belinelli, who was enjoying his best outing in a Bulls uniform.
Cleveland didn’t relent, however, cutting the deficit to single digits again after an Alonzo Gee triple midway through the period, but shortly afterwards, the Bulls put their foot down, outclassing their inferior foe and extending their lead to the point where it was all academic from there on out. The hosts waved the white flag, as Cavaliers head coach subbed out key starters when the contest entered its stretch run, ensuring that the Bulls got off to a positive start on their two-game, Central Division road trip.
Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers
, Luol Deng
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, Marco Belinelli
, carlos boozer
, Anderson Varejao