Murray’s Trey Ends Cavaliers’ Skid
Cleveland 92, Chicago 91
CHICAGO, March 2 (Ticker) -- Ronald Murray took a pile of pressure off of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Murray scored nine of his 13 points in the final three minutes, including a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining, to give the Cavaliers a wild 92-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls that snapped a five-game losing streak.
"We had to win this," James said. "I think if we lost this game after being up 25 points, it would've been awful for us and could've carried into a few more games. This was a must win for us."
"This definitely got some pressure off of us," said Murray, who was acquired from Seattle at the trading deadline. "Losing the first four when I was here was tough, but to get the first win for me felt great."
The Cavaliers are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years - and avoid their third straight late-season collapse. The responsibility is falling on the shoulders of James, the 21-year-old superstar swingman who is having trouble carrying the load.
During the losing streak, James averaged 25.0 points - more than five below his average - while shooting less than 42 percent from the field, missing 21 free throws and committing nearly five turnovers per contest.
James teamed with Eric Snow and Anderson Varejao to trigger a strong start that saw the Cavaliers hold a 55-30 lead late in the second quarter and a 75-60 bulge entering the final period.
But James and his teammates began settling for jumpers - he made 11-of-27 shots - and the Bulls got back in the game with a flurry of 3-pointers. Ben Gordon's free throw with 3:04 to play followed two missed foul shots by James and gave Chicago its first lead at 82-81.
"We were two totally different teams out there from the first half to the second half," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We fought hard and got back into it."
There were seven more lead changes down the stretch. A nifty baseline drive by Murray gave Cleveland an 87-86 lead with 1:03 remaining, but Gordon responded with a teardrop shot with 39 seconds left.
James threw a bad pass that went off the Bulls. After a timeout, the Cavaliers went to James, who drove and dished to Varejao. The second-year forward was fouled but missed both free throws with 18 seconds to go.
Luol Deng sank a pair from the line to give Chicago a 90-87 lead. Murray drove for a layup before Cleveland fouled Hinrich with 11 seconds to play.
Hinrich made the first free throw but missed the second. James dribbled upcourt and drove into the lane before passing to the right corner to an open Murray, who sank the go-ahead shot.
"It was a win-win situation for us because LeBron was driving and had a wide-open lane," Murray said. "If my man hadn't helped off, he would've had a wide open layup. Once my man left me to help, he kicked it to me and I was wide open."
"I keep telling you guys (media), I'm not going to force anything," James said. "Flip had a wide-open three. I drove and kicked it to him and he had the best shot of the game and knocked it down. If he would've missed it, I wouldn't have been upset about any of it."
The Bulls had one last chance, but Gordon and Andres Nocioni botched a handoff play and Nocioni missed a long jumper as time expired.
"We have a play that we run there where we to try to get Ben on a run around but it didn't develop," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "Snow (was) pretty much covering it real good there and we couldn't get off of him to get Ben free."
"We didn't want to give them any easy looks," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "We wanted to make sure if they ran any type of pick-and-roll or anything like that, we switched out on the guys without fouling. Our guys didn't get beat backdoor and kept everyone in front."
Snow scored 14 points and Varejao added 13 - both season highs - for the Cavaliers, who improved to 3-0 against the Bulls this season. Snow added eight assists.
"This win means a lot, espically on the road," James said. "We've got the tiebreaker with everyone in our division besides Detroit. This was very key for us and was a big win for us."
Hinrich had 25 points and nine rebounds and Deng added 18 and 10 for the Bulls (25-32), who have lost three of their last four games.
"Even though we played bad, we felt like we still put ourselves in a position to win the game," Deng said. "It just came down to mistakes in the end again. We can't put ourselves in that kind of situation but we've got to eliminate those mistakes."
A three-point play by Anderson and a dunk by James gave the Cavaliers their largest lead at 55-30 before the Bulls closed the quarter with seven straight points.
A 3-pointer by Nocioni started a 9-0 spurt that cut the deficit to 77-71 with 8:02 to play. Deng and Hinrich had 3-pointers in a 10-0 run that pulled the Bulls into an 81-81 tie with 3:53 left.