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Wrap-Up -- A few opponents already this season have come into a contest with the Wine & Gold on a hot streak and eager to rumble with the reigning Conference champs. And on almost every occasion, the Cavaliers have illustrated why they’re still the East’s alpha dogs.
The streaking Bulls – who came to town winners of seven straight – gave the Cavaliers all they could handle, but an early fourth-quarter push was the difference as Cleveland held on for the hard-fought 115-112 win on Thursday night at The Q.
The win was Cleveland’s third against Chicago already this season (after dropping all four meetings one year ago) – and marked the Cavs’ 12th straight victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Wine & Gold outscored the Bulls by two points in the first quarter and by one in the third. Cleveland jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter, but Chicago clawed back to re-take the lead with 7:23 to play in regulation.
LeBron James’ turnaround jumper with 1:01 to play put Cleveland up six, 113-107. But Nikola Mirotic – who hasn’t lost a game with the Bulls this season – drilled a triple to get Chicago back to within a single possession and Denzel Valentine followed with a layup on the Bulls’ next possession to cut Cleveland’s lead to one.
But LeBron hit a pair of free throws with 11.1 to play that gave the Cavs a three-point lead and Dwyane Wade blocked Kris Dunn’s three-point attempt to seal the deal.
LeBron – playing in his franchise-record 800th career game as a Cavalier – led both squads with 34 points on 12-for-23 shooting, including 2-of-5 from long-range and a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe to go with a team-high nine assists, six boards and three steals.
Thursday’s performance marked the 14th time this season that the 13-time All-Star has reached the 30-point plateau.
Kevin Love followed up with 27 points and seven boards, going 9-for-15 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and 5-of-5 from the free throw line.
Channing Frye got the start in place of JR Smith, who missed the affair with a sore left knee. Coach Tyronn Lue, who was feeling ill before the home contest, also sat out on Thursday. Larry Drew assumed head coaching responsibilities in the win.
But Thursday also marked the first time this season that All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas was listed as active – although he didn’t see action against Chicago and almost certainly won’t when the Cavs travel to Golden State for their perennial holiday showdown.
LBJ notches 34 points in the Cavaliers' 115-112 win over the Chicago Bulls Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
”That (Christmas Day game) was a target for my kids, so they’re mad, but I’m fine with it,” smiled the East’s leading scorer one season ago. “I have no rhythm, so there’s no way I can play in an actual NBA game right now and be very effective like I’m used to being. But slowly, that will come back and I’ll get a feel for it.”
The Wine & Gold got another strong performance from their bench against Chicago – combining for 40 points for the 22nd time this season.
Kyle Korver was especially good – finishing with 15 points, going 5-of-7 from the floor, 4-of-6 from long-distance. Once again, he and LeBron were the winning combination in the fourth quarter – combining for 20 of Cleveland’s 33 points in the final period.
Dwyane Wade stuffed the stat sheet in 24 minutes off the bench – tallying 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting, adding three boards, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots, one more than Chicago had as a team.
Impressive rookie Lauri Markkenen led the Bulls with 25 points in the loss – going 11-for-17 from the floor. Kris Dunn doubled-up with 10 points and a game-high 14 assists.
As a team, the Bulls out-shot the Cavaliers, 55 percent to 51 percent, with each team connecting on a dozen treys. But the Cavaliers more than doubled Chicago’s production at the stripe – going 19-for-22 compared to 6-of-8 for Fred Hoiberg’s squad.
Turning Point -- Heading into the fourth quarter, Thursday’s contest featured 11 ties and 24 lead-changes. And the Cavaliers went on a 7-0 run to start the period, looking like they might finally pull away from the feisty Bulls.
But Chicago went on a 13-2 run of their own to take a one-point edge, 92-91, with just under eight minutes to play.
After the Cavs tied the affair, Kyle Korver hit back-to-back buckets – including a four-point play – that gave Cleveland a four-point lead with 4:43 to play and Kevin Love’s consecutive hoops less than a minute later put the Cavs up a touchdown and gave them just enough breathing room to hold off Chicago.
By the Numbers – 29.9, 10.0, 10.2 … points, rebounds and assists that LeBron James is averaging over his last 11 games at The Q – shooting .578 from the floor and .403 from long-range over that span.
Quotable – LeBron James, on Isaiah Thomas being activated on Thursday night …
”It’s another build. It’s a building block. So to have Isaiah out there in warmups with us, going through our prayer, going through the starting lineups and everything with us, it’s just another step in the right direction.”
Up Next -- After dropping the Bulls on Thursday night, the Cavaliers will hit the road for the biggest matchup on the young season – the eagerly-anticipated Finals rematch with the Warriors on Christmas Day. From Oakland, the mini-road trip rolls on to Sacramento where Cleveland takes on the Kings next Wednesday night. The Wine & Gold wrap up the junket next Saturday night where they’ll hope to celebrate LeBron’s 33rd birthday with a win in Salt Lake City to close out the calendar year. The Cavs come home for one game – a January 2 meeting with Portland – before getting right back on the road for five straight.