In a game where the Chicago Bulls gave it their all, where they attacked the rim much more than they had in game one, where they crashed the offensive boards and where Joakim Noah was a man, leading the Bulls with 25 points, and where they were nearly flawless at the free-throw line...all the ingredients necessary to beat Cleveland...the Cavaliers, nonetheless, behind a sterling effort from LeBron James, a blizzard of three-pointers, and their own nearly flawless shooting from the charity stripe, pulled away in the fourth quarter to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best of seven first round series with the Bulls, riding a 35-point final frame, including a decisive eleven straight from Lebron, to win 112-102, and sending the series to Chicago for game three Thursday night.
The tone of this game was set early, and that tone was that there was going to be no semi-runaway as there had been in game one, Though the Cavs led after one, 28-22, it was evident that the Bulls' game plan was to get inside instead of settling for jumpers as they had in the first game. James's 10 points and five assists, and two big threes from Anthony Parker, gave the Cavs the early cushion, and the Bulls, even driving more often, were hamstrung by 35% shooting in the first twelve minutes. But the game felt different, and that feeling continued almost to the end.
In the second quarter, with LeBron on the bench, Cleveland extended its lead to 36-26, and then, coinciding oddly with James''s re-insertion into the game, the Bulls came roaring back. Old friend Flip Murray figured strongly in the rally, posting 10 points by the half off the bench, and with Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose both adding twelve points, and fueled by 8 offensive boards, Chicago had cut the margin to a razor-thin 52-50 by the intermission. LeBron finished the first half with 16 points, and Parker added another three, and his nine points, all from beyond the arc, was huge. 56% from the field and five-of-eleven in threes, and a perfect 7 of 7 at the line, and still leading only by two, the stage was set for a war in the second half.
The third quarter was a display of "you take the lead, no you take it"...back and forth the lead went, with an incredible 15 lead changes and seven ties in that quarter alone, It seemed only fitting that the game was tied at 77 as the final twelve minutes began. By the end of three, Cleveland was still shooting a blistering 53% from the field, and had made 6 of 16 threes...a preview of deadly fourth-quarter accuracy.
Cleveland jumped ahead immediately in the fourth with a basket by Antawn Jamison and a three-point play by Delonte West putting the Cavs up by five at 82-77. But the Bulls were far from done-in by the run and scored the next three points to again creep within a basket. Then, Jamario Moon hit a three and LeBron came back in from his rest with the Cavs ahead 85-82. The King immediately scored to boost the lead back to five, but the Bulls kept hanging around, and still trailed by only 89-86, when Anderson Varejao checked back in, to a sigh of relief, after limping off earlier after a collision with Derrick Rose. For the Bulls, Luol Deng looked to be injured after a collison with James but hopped right back into the game, and seems to be fine.
With the Cavs clinging to a 91-88 lead, the afterburners kicked in, jump-started by a Moon three. Varejao added a hoop to make it 96-92, and then LeBron James put on a mini-version of the show he put on in Detroit three years ago, scoring the next eleven Cavaliers' points, with a three, two free throws, and three more baskets before finally missing when it no longer mattered. The onslaught, by the time it ended, saw the Cavs lead up to seven at 107-100, and then, one more time, Jamario Moon dialed up from downtown and the game was as good as over.
In the final frame the Cavs were four-of-four from three-point territory, as all the shakiness of Game One seemed to be left behind, and finished ten of twenty for the game, a sterling 50%. At the line Cleveland went 22-of-24, a blistering 92%....and were out-shot percentage-wise by the Bulls 16 of 17, for 94%. The Bulls were done in by making only 4 threes, although that was an improvement over their having made one in the opening game.
Chicago bounced back from game one to win the rebounding battle, 37-36, and also had one more assist, but the Cavs' 9-3 advantage in blocked shots was significant, and offset a fantastic Bulls performance in protecting the ball. Chicago finished with only 4 turnovers.
LeBron James busted out for 40 points tonight to lead all scorers by far, but it might not have mattered without Jamario Moon's 4 of 5 in three-pointers, and Anthony Parker's 3 of 5.
A magnificent game, especially for a Cavaliers fan, but Chicago has nothing to be ashamed of, and now goes home feeling as if it can hang tough with Cleveland, especially if they can keep working the inside. And, to his credit, as said earlier, Joakim Noah, facing incredible hostility from the crowd, had an excellent game with 25 points and thirteen rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive end.
No, Chicago has nothing for which to be ashamed.
On to game three we go. If the rest of this series is as good as tonight's game was, it may not be a classic as memorable as last years Bulls-Celtics series, but it will be far from shabby.