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Wrap-Up -- The Cavaliers aren’t the first team to struggle shooting the basketball against the Bulls this season. But they had hoped for a different result in Tyronn Lue’s debut as the Wine and Gold’s new head coach.
The day after replacing David Blatt with Lue at the helm, Cleveland couldn’t find any sort of offensive rhythm – shooting 37 percent from the floor, 16 percent from long distance and 41 percent from the stripe – falling to Chicago for the second time this season, 96-83, on Saturday night at The Q.
The Cavs jumped out to an early six-point edge, but that’s about as good as it’d get in a primetime showdown with their Central Division rivals.
Cleveland committed just four turnovers – their lowest mark since 2009 – and dominated the Bulls in the paint, 50-28, and on the fastbreak, 15-2. But the Cavaliers reserves combined for just eight points and Chicago seemed to get every key offensive rebound. And despite an already-poor free throw percentage for the game, the first three quarters were even worse – with the Wine and Gold going 2-for-12 from the line.
LeBron James led both teams with 26 points, barely missing his 40th career triple-double – finishing with 13 boards, nine assists, two steals and a blocked shot. James went 11-for-27 from the floor but, missed all five three-point attempts on the evening and was 4-of-7 from the free throw line.
J.R. Smith also doubled-up, following up with 18 points and 11 boards – going 7-for-17 from the field overall, 2-of-7 from long-distance.
Kevin Love added 14 points on an even 6-for-12 shooting to go with five boards and a pair of assists. And Kyrie Irving rounded out the Cavaliers in double-figures with 11 points, three boards, three assists and a pair of steals.
Chicago got 25 points and 10 boards from Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler added 20 points and nine boards, but it was Taj Gibson – who flummoxed the Cavaliers on both ends – and Nikola Mirotic – who went 3-for-5 and finished with 17 points off the bench – who killed the Cavaliers at every key moment on Saturday night.
Turning Point -- Despite not leading at any point after the first quarter, the Cavaliers’ defense kept the contest close throughout. But Chicago’s international 1-2 punch of Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic combined to give the Bulls an third quarter edge the Wine and Gold simply couldn’t surmount.
With just over eight minutes to play in the third period, Kevin Love’s hook shot got Cleveland to within four, but Gasol scored six of Chicago’s next eight points as the Cavs went cold. Mirotic took over from there, netting nine of the Bulls’ next 11 as part of a 21-11 run to end the period on a 19-10 run and put the Wine and Gold behind the 8-ball the rest of the way.
By the Numbers – 8 … double-doubles that LeBron James has notched in his last nine meetings with the Bulls, including last year’s Second Round playoff matchup – averaging 25.3 points, 11.0 boards, 8.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks over that stretch.
Quotable – Coach Tyronn Lue, on the squad’s condition and his intention to increase the pace …
”I think we play the second-slowest in the league as far as pace-wise. The vision that I have for this team, I think we have to play faster. I think we have to utilize Kyrie and LeBron’s one-on-one ability in transition to open the floor more and run in more drags. We just haven’t been accustomed to playing that way. I have to do a better job of getting us in better shape.”
Up Next – Following Saturday night’s loss to Chicago, the Wine and Gold will try to right the ship against a pair of Western Conference foes this week at The Q. On Monday night, they welcome Andrew Wiggins and the Timberwolves – who they dropped earlier this month in Minnesota. On Wednesday, the Suns – who Cleveland topped on December 28 in Phoenix -- come to town to wrap up the four-game homestand. The Wine and Gold get back on the road next Friday night, taking on the Pistons in Motown, before a heavyweight rematch with the Spurs next Saturday at The Q.