Bulls stayin' alive (barely) after 109-108 win against Cavaliers
Does LeBron James really make the Cleveland Cavaliers 2 points better against the Bulls?
Obviously, a first-round playoff matchup against the Cavs doesn't seem promising right now.
But the Bulls stayed in postseason contention with a thoroughly unimpressive 109-108 win on Thursday at the United Center.
About an hour before tipoff, word spread James would sit this one out. No reason, other than getting the league's likely repeat MVP a little extra rest before the playoffs start next week.
In theory, this should have been easy. But the Bulls could never pull away and missed 4 free throws in the final 15 seconds - sweating it out as the Cavs missed 6 shots in the final minute while trailing by 1.
"We all know they're a better team with LeBron," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "Us right now, it doesn't matter who's playing and who's not. We played Milwaukee without (Andrew) Bogut and lost. We couldn't relax and they stuck with us the whole game."
Toronto fans had every right to throw a shoe at the television, considering all the bad luck the Raptors have faced this week, with all-star Chris Bosh going down and James sitting out. But the Bulls and Toronto are now tied for eighth place in the East with four games left.
A win's a win - Bulls/Cavs recap
And boy did the Bulls need a win.
Playing at the United Center on Tuesday night against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that decided to give it a go without an ostensibly healthy LeBron James, the Bulls overcame some late-game free throw dry-heaving to eke out a 109-108 victory and pull even with Toronto in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
With Chris Bosh likely done for the season, it appears that even without the tiebreaker Chicago has the edge over the Raps. Of course, the Bulls (38-40) absolutely have to beat the RuPaul-of-big-men-free Raptors in Toronto on Sunday. However, with the way the Bulls just played in consecutive games against teams missing their respective best players -- Milwaukee minus the injured Andrew Bogut, Cleveland without a resting LeBron -- I wouldn't even consider calling it a gimme. Nor would I say that about their next game, Friday in New Jersey (the Raptors will be in Atlanta). The Nets have already beaten the Bulls once, and have been playing respectably of late, going 4-4 in their last eight games.
Unlike Tuesday's 79-74 loss to the Bucks, the Bulls played Cleveland (61-18) with a sense of urgency and the appropriate level of intensity. Derrick Rose dished out 10 assists and scored a team-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while Joakim Noah consistently delivered when Chicago needed a big play, finishing with 17 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks.
Just as importantly, Noah spearheaded an inspired defensive effort -- although you wouldn't know it from looking at the box score, the Bulls played a much better game on that end than they did versus Milwaukee, despite allowing nearly 30 more points. The Cavs were just hitting difficult shots; they were almost always long and contested.