The Bulls Tuesday put up a strong effort for three quarters against the defending East champion Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Cavs proved too much down the stretch in a 119-112 Cleveland victory.
The Bulls fell to 0-3 and play Atlanta in the United Center Thursday. The Cavs are 3-1.
The Bulls after a spirited first half in which they led 68-65 and made a dozen three pointers and just three turnovers fell victim to Cleveland pressure and couldn’t maintain their edge.
The Bulls were led by Justin Holiday with 25 points and Lauri Markkanan with 19, 17 in the first half. LeBron James had 34 for Cleveland. The Bulls made 17 three pointers, one short of their all time most. Kay Felder and Denzel Valentine each had 13.
Lauri was on the mark to start with a trio of three pointers in the first five minutes of the game as the Bulls stunned the Cavs with a 7-0 start and 12-2 before the Cavs staggered into a quick timeout. Markkanan was smooth with his shot, making his first three attempts as the Bulls stunned the Cleveland audience with a 14-point lead late in the first quarter and 38-28 after one quarter. Markkanen had 11 first quarter points as the Bulls, playing swiftly again, shot 54 percent and five of 11 on threes. James had 12 for Cleveland. The Bulls also got an early boost off the bench from former Cav Felder, who had 13 first half points. The Cavs, despite the Bulls sharp shooting with 12 of 20 first half threes, kept on the Bulls tail with James’ 23 first half points with four of four threes of his own. The Bulls again found Markkanen late in the second quarter on his way to 17 first half points and an NBA record for most threes in an NBA player’s first three games with 10. The Cavs cut the Bulls lead to 49-47 midway through the second quarter despite back to back Felder threes. But with Holiday and Markkanen responding with threes, the Bulls hung onto a 68-65 lead going into the second half. The Bulls committed just three turnovers in the half after averaging about 20 the first two games. But the Cavs aren’t an aggressive defense on the perimeter as J.R. Smith replaced Dwayne Wade at guard and Tristan Thompson moved back to center. The Bulls had a 21-16 first half rebounding edge, but the Cavs shot 57 percent in the first half and nine of 18 on threes.
The Cavs looked like they were going to run away following another of those mistake-filled Bulls stretches with four turnovers in six possessions. Cleveland eased ahead 81-73 with the home crowd sensing a blowout. But the Bulls got a big close and 10 third quarter points from Holiday and a three from Valentine to lead 92-91 entering the fourth quarter. The Cavs asserted themselves with Kevin Love scores and took a 112-103 lead midway through the fourth quarter as the Bulls offense went dry with Markkanen resting.