Cleveland rocks, the locals like to say about the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Saturday it was the Bulls who rolled in a 118-106 victory over the Cavaliers.
Mostly it was Zach LaVine who did some shaking, rattling and rolling with another starring performance that Cavaliers All-Star Kevin Love likened to what he's seen from superstars. And having played on a championship team with LeBron James, Love knows one when he sees one.
"He's so impressive," marveled Love, who led Cleveland with 20 points. "He's an All-Star. He's on his way to being a superstar in this league."
All-Star would be nice with LaVine hoping to get the vote next week from the coaches for one of the seven reserve positions for the game to be played in the United Center next month. For now, LaVine is taking it out on the Cavaliers—his second game of at least 40 points against Cleveland in the last week—and the rest of the league, averaging 30.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists the last 10 games. LaVine has three games of at least 40 in that stretch.
LaVine Saturday, frustrated and admittedly anxious to atone after Friday's disappointing home loss to Sacramento in a hard day's night that came in the wake of reports of Lauri Markkanen's injury, led the Bulls in scoring, rebounding and assists with his best all around game as a professional, 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
"Never had one before," LaVine acknowledged about the triple double statistic. "Two minutes to go, I was like, ‘Alright, maybe I should get a couple assists.' But the game got out of hand. I'll get one eventually."
Probably more as LaVine continues to show a sophisticated and varied game that isn't all about scoring. Talk about someone who is a free bird born to be wild. The Bulls, 18-30, need that most now with Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Daniel Gafford and Wendell Carter Jr. out with injuries.
LaVine has been producing like only the truly elite offensive players in the game, especially because there are so few other scoring options for the Bulls. Tomas Satoransky broke out of his slump with 19 points. Thaddeus Young had 11 and Kris Dunn added 10. But there was no way the Bulls could have recovered without LaVine from the Cavaliers taking an 11-point lead midway through the second quarter. LaVine scored 11 points in three minutes late in the half after a dozen points in the first quarter to enable the Bulls to take a 59-57 halftime lead. LaVine had 27 of the team's 59.
"We've tried everything now," Cavaliers coach John Beilein lamented afterward as LaVine really got him. "We've tried Cedi (Osman), we've tried Collin (Sexton) and we've used Tristan (Thompson) just to get a bigger body. None of it's worked against LaVine and he finds others."
Ain't that a shame.
"We have tough times when we are matching up with a really good all-star," Beilein concluded.
From your lips to the East coach's ears? If only for LaVine. It would be a wonderful and deserving day in the life.
At least that should be one vote for LaVine.
Though Zach's too proud to beg.
It's especially impressive for LaVine because the defense doesn't have to worry too much otherwise. LaVine had a stretch like this to start last season when Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis were injured. So LaVine scored at last 30 points in the first four games and averaged 28 points the first month of the season even with various starters including rookies Carter and Chandler Hutchison, Justin Holiday, Cameron Payne and rockin' Robin Lopez.
It's somewhat better now. But with Satoransky failing to score in double digits the last five games and limited offensive players like Dunn, Young and Luke Kornet also starting, the defensive attention as much as there is among the Cavs obviously remained on LaVine. To produce like that when everyone knows you have to produce like that is impressive.
Highlights: Zach LaVine | Bulls vs. Cavaliers
"All-Star performance," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought he was just unbelievable, driving it, shooting it, creating. He got backdoor cuts, he got it in all different ways. He's a great kid and he wants to be great. He was frustrated after last night (only 21 points). Our team was frustrated. I thought he responded, and I think that's what good players do. They take it to heart. It bothers them. He was very physical getting to the rim. I'll go back to the response from last night. That says a lot about his character."
Yesterday wasn't such an easy game to play against those Kings.
Though the latest injury was a gut punch with three starters out, LaVine may have enough to keep the Bulls close until they return, probably not long after the All-Star break. Though the team's playoff hopes seemed bleaker with news of Markkanen being out four to six weeks, the Bulls now are in ninth and just three games behind Kyrie-challenged Brooklyn for that last East playoff spot. It gets you Milwaukee and maybe just a week of games, but once you get there they do start over. So why not?
"We know where our position is right now," said LaVine. "It's getting close to All-Star break time, so it's make-or-break time. We're in the battle for that eighth spot. So just understanding where it is and games that you let go that you shouldn't."
LaVine took the ball more to start as a de facto point guard and the Bulls again rattled the Cavs' baby guards of Sexton and Darius Garland. The Bulls got back in the passing lanes and pressuring for 15 steals and 21 Cleveland turnovers for 27 points. The Bulls three-point shooting yet again was shaky, 12 for 33. But the Bulls compensated this time with enough transition play. There was a whole lot a shakin' goin' on.
They broke open the game in the third quarter—the "They" actually not being the opponent for a change—with a 40-19 avalanche. Great balls of fire!
"We've struggled in the third, as you all know," said Boylen about those troubled waters. "I was happy with the way we played in the third. I thought the ball moved and I thought we made good decisions. We finished plays. I thought Luke had a terrific third along with the rest of our guys, KD's defense."
Kornet had just six points, but someone lit his fire as they all came on consecutive plays late in the third when the Bulls began to pull away, LaVine and Satoransky assisting on Kornet running dunks and a lob. My sweet lob!
"Just playing the game the way it should be," said LaVine. "In the third quarter, they switched up their defense. I feel like I had to be a little more of a facilitator. There was a lot of attention. I try to address the game the way they're playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball because it breaks down defenses."
Though the Cavaliers didn't quite pressure and trap LaVine like the Kings did Friday. Not that the Cavs could as probably the league's poorest defensive team, opponents shooting 49 percent and more than 37 percent on threes. The Cavs dropped to 12-34.
LaVine was feelin' the good vibrations and added two more three pointers in the last two minutes of the third quarter. And there were the Bulls with the 23-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Talk about being comfortably numb. The Cavaliers got it down to nine with under two minutes left in the game. But it was the Bulls dancin' in the streets by then for a change.
BullsTV Recap: Bulls 106, Cavaliers 118 - 1.25.20