CHICAGO (AP) — LeBron James struggled to score 15 points, Kyrie Irving limped off the court and the Cleveland Cavaliers still beat the Chicago Bulls 94-73 on Thursday night to clinch their Eastern Conference semifinal series in six games.
CLEVELAND (AP) — With the “Big 3” reduced to the “Banged-Up 2,” LeBron James again showed why he’s Cleveland’s one and only.
James scored 38 points, Kyrie Irving added 25 and the Cavaliers held off Chicago’s charge in the fourth quarter for a 106-101 victory over the Bulls on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their testy Eastern Conference semifinal.
Showing no ill effects from a sprained left ankle, James added 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals, three blocks and didn’t have a turnover in 41 minutes to ensure the Cavs will again play at home this season. The four-time league MVP was locked in from the start, imposing his will on a game the Cavaliers had to have.
“I commend him for putting us on his back,” Irving said.
Cleveland can wrap up the best-of-seven series and advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 with a win in Game 6 on Thursday night back at United Center in Chicago, where the teams exchanged buzzer-beating victories last weekend.
The drama wasn’t quite as high in Game 5, but it was close and it was intense.
Jimmy Butler scored 29 and Mike Dunleavy 19 for Chicago. Derrick Rose scored 16, 12 in the first quarter, but the star guard shot just 2 of 15 in the final three quarters and aggravated a shoulder “stinger” he sustained in Game 1.
Fueled by an altercation that led to the ejection of Chicago’s Taj Gibson, the Cavs led 90-73 with 6:09 left and then had to hold off a furious comeback by the Bulls, who got within 101-99 on Butler’s 3-pointer with 1:18 left.
Cleveland, though, got a huge offensive rebound by Iman Shumpert before Irving, playing with surprising speed and agility on a sprained right foot and sore left knee, made four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
James, though, was the difference — as usual. After a few un-LeBron-like performances in which he was sloppy with the ball, James had his first error-free game this season.
“Yay!” he joked, feigning surprise. “No turnovers! That was the first stat I was looking at after the game. I was trying to be efficient for my teammates and I was very efficient.”
The Bulls were missing big man Pau Gasol, who sat out his second straight game with a strained left hamstring and didn’t sound confident before Game 5 that he’d be ready by Thursday.
They also played the final 10:25 without Gibson, ejected for kicking Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova. Gibson shoved Dellavedova to the floor and then kicked the scrappy backup, who angered the Bulls forward by clamping his legs around Gibson’s. Players on both teams exchanged shoves and pushes before the officials got things under control.
Gibson could be facing further discipline from the league, and Dellavedova, too, might get slapped for his role.
“I was surprised (to be ejected),” Gibson said. “I really just tried to release my foot because as soon as I got up off the ground, I just felt somebody tugging on my leg.”
James was on the bench for the fracas and made sure none of his teammates went on the floor. James called Dellavedova “the toughest guy on our team” and promised the Cavs won’t tolerate any rough stuff.
“We just want to play ball,” he said. “But we’ll protect our brothers.”
The Cavs were sparked by the incident and opened a 90-73 lead before the Bulls came charging back. Dunleavy scored six points in an 11-0 run that got Chicago back in it before the Cavs gained their composure and closed it out.
“I love the way that we fought back,” Rose said. “I thought we had a crack at it, we just didn’t execute right.”
James, who came in shooting just 38 percent in the series, didn’t show the slightest signs of being slowed by the sprain he sustained late in Game 4. He ran the floor with abandon, posted up whenever possible and seemed intent on taking care of the Bulls by himself.
(AP) Cleveland – Among the multitude of highlights in the long-running clash between LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls, the big moments in this playoff series may stand alone.
Two former MVPs, two buzzer-beaters, two wins apiece.
With this Eastern Conference semifinal now a best-of-three, those dramatics only figure to increase Tuesday night when the series shifts back to Cleveland for a critical Game 5 after James gave the Cavaliers a thrilling win in Chicago.
Derrick Rose handed the Bulls a 2-1 advantage with a last-second 3-pointer in a 99-96 win in Game 3 before James answered Sunday by knocking down a long jumper from the corner to lift Cleveland to an 86-84 victory.
That final play was initially designed with James throwing the inbound pass from beneath Cleveland’s basket – a plan the four-time MVP instantly rejected.
“I told Coach (David Blatt) there was no way I’m taking the ball out unless I could shoot it over the backboard and go in,” James said. “So I told him, ‘Have somebody else take the ball out.’ The play that was drawn up, I scratched it. I just told Coach, ‘Just give me the ball. We’re either going to go into overtime or I’m going to win it for us.'”
James also carried Cleveland to victory in Game 2, scoring 22 first-half points en route to a 19-point halftime lead and eventual 106-91 victory.
Rose and Jimmy Butler claimed that leading role from James in Chicago’s two victories. They combined to score 45 in Game 1 and 50 points – 23 in the fourth quarter – in Game 3.
Rose has particularly impressed with an average of 30.5 points over the last two games, but with Pau Gasol sidelined by a strained hamstring, the 84 points Sunday matched the Bulls’ third-lowest total this season.
“Pau, the way that he scores, just his presence on the floor, the way that he shoots the ball, rebounds the ball, is huge,” Rose told the team’s official website. “But I think the guys who stepped in did their jobs and they played well. We lost the game, for sure, but I love our mentality.”
Gasol is a game-time decision, and the Bulls will again look to Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson should the All-Star forward be unable to play. They combined for 21 points and 17 rebounds in Game 3, but stumbled to only nine points and 11 boards Sunday.
Outside of Rose and Butler, no Bulls player scored in double figures in Game 4.
Kyrie Irving is also dealing with injuries that have limited him to 11.5 points per game over the last two. Unlike Chicago, however, the Cavaliers got support from their reserves Sunday, namely J.R. Smith, who hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 in the fourth.
A similar performance may again be necessary moving forward given Irving’s status. An MRI taken Monday revealed that in addition to a sprained right foot suffered during Cleveland’s first round series with Boston, Irving also has tendinitis in his left knee.
“It’s just about finding ways to be more effective, especially being out there,” Irving said. “I still can shoot. You still have to respect me out there. It’s not like they can just leave me or anything like that. But I just try to use myself as a decoy and make plays as best I can.”
James skipped Tuesday’s morning shootaround after hurting his ankle when he stepped on one of Rose’s feet on a drive to the basket Sunday. He says he’s getting treatment for the injury but will play.
Joakim Noah, whose trash talk in Game 3 was deemed “disrespectful” by James, grabbed 15 rebounds Sunday and will try to help the Bulls snap a losing postseason trend in Cleveland, where they’ve dropped four of five playoff games.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Noah said. “We’re really excited for Game 5.”