Now if the Bulls can figure out what to do about those Mavericks, Timberwolves, Bucks and Nuggets. The Bulls Wednesday defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-94.
The Bulls trailed by 13 points in the first quarter but then stormed out to a 17-point third quarter lead before the Cavs cut it to one in the fourth. But Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls late with clutch shooting and defensive plays against LeBron James.
Butler had 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Bulls. Taj Gibson had 18 points, Doug McDermott 17, Nikola Mirotic 16, Michael Carter-Williams 13 and Dwyane Wade 10. James had 31 points.
The Bulls got back to .500 at 18-18. The Cavs dropped to 26-8 and 18-3 at home.
The Bulls defeated the Cavs last month in the United Center and had a 3-1 advantage on the Cavs last regular season.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both out, Irving with a hamstring injury. Former Bull Mike Dunleavy returned to play after missing last month’s game in Chicago. It was a slow start for the Bulls with Butler and Wade a combined zero for seven shooting in the first quarter, though the Bulls responded from trailing 15-2 to trail just 23-16 after the first quarter. It was a poor shooting quarter, the Bulls at 29.2 percent even as Gibson was three of three.
But Mirotic’s three to close the first quarter for the Bulls was a harbinger of better things to come. Combining with McDermott, who was six of six in the first half with a trio of threes, the Bulls scored 13 straight points after trailing 23-12 late in the first quarter. Channing Frye stopped that run with a three, but Mirotic and McDermott, the Bulls M&M boys, combined for 14 straight Bulls points in the second quarter for a 39-34 Bulls lead. Butler finally scored his first points of the game with a three to give the Bulls a 46-40 lead and the Bulls went into halftime leading 52-46, McDermott and Mirotic off the bench combining for 26 points. Butler and Wade were a combined two of 14 and James had 14 for the Cavs in the half.
The Bulls continued their momentum to start the second half with Wade and Carter-Williams loosening up. Wade hit a pair of three point shots, the second putting the Bulls ahead 69-55. Then Carter-Williams got a lane, drove and dunked two handed and made a jumper in a run of seven straight Bulls points for a 76-59 Bulls lead. But after leading 78-61 and James going out with an ankle sprain, the Bulls relaxed and the Cavs had a 13-5 run to close the quarter. The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 83-74. But the Cavs reserves with pressure pushed the Bulls back and went on a 17-8 run with James out of the game.
Little Kay Felder drove for a pair of scores and the Cavs got within 86-84 with nine minutes left. James returned with the Bulls leading 88-84 and immediately scored twice, bringing the Cavs back within 89-88. But Butler then drew a charge on James motoring down the lane and made a pair of jumpers to push the Bulls back ahead 94-88 with 5:32 left. It was 10 straight Butler points to give the Bulls a 96-88 lead and then Butler picking up a loose ball for a short jumper as the Bulls led 100-90 with 2:44 left.