Augustin, Gibson steal the show as Bulls beat Deng, Cavs

Augustin, Gibson steal the show as Bulls beat Deng, Cavs
January 22, 2014, 8:15 pm
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CLEVELAND—Luol Deng’s reunion with the Bulls (21-20) ended up being a significant moment for more than just the only chance to match up with the two-time All-Star, as Wednesday’s 98-87 win over the Cavaliers (15-27) at Quicken Loans Arena also marked the first time the red-hot team was above .500 since November.

Used to being undermanned—starters Carlos Boozer (strained left calf) and Kirk Hinrich (right hamstring) missed this one, with the point guard remaining in Chicago for treatment and the power forward day-to-day with a less severe ailment—the Bulls jumped to a quick start. D.J. Augustin (27 points) led the way with his usual blend of scoring and playmaking, while Taj Gibson (26 points), starting Boozer’s place, also made an impact in the opening period.

Matched up with Deng (11 points), a fellow Duke product, veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr. (22 points) was also effective in the early going and after a quarter of play, the Bulls led their former teammate’s new squad, 23-17.

Gibson’s solid play carried over to the next frame and the Bulls built a double-digit lead over Cleveland. It was short-lived, however, as the Cavs fought back to make it a close-knit affair behind reserve forward Earl Clark, who energized the crowd with his dunk over Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed.

Cleveland kept surging and the Bulls would be on the wrong end of a 16-3 run that saw the Cavaliers seize the lead, as All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (26 points) got hot and center Anderson Varejao’s defense, energy and all-around game nullified Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah (nine points, 18 rebounds, six assists), who did manage to be a force on the boards, per usual. But the Bulls battled back and didn’t let things get out of hand, though they faced a 44-43 deficit at the intermission.

After the break, Gibson, who tied his career-high point total, continued to be a catalyst for the Bulls, who quickly regained the lead, extinguishing the Cavs’ momentum and taking control of the contest after scoring six consecutive points from the big man to start the third quarter without a Cleveland rebuttal.

The Bulls would eventually build a double-digit advantage, as Augustin again came to Gibson’s aid, and while Deng, in the midst of a poor shooting night, would play more aggressively and get to the foul line, the Cavs seemingly weren’t making much headway in terms of trimming the gap. Still, Cleveland continued to plug away, eventually making things tight late in the period.

But a late spurt keyed by Gibson and Jimmy Butler, Deng’s former apprentice, gave the Bulls some breathing room and heading into the final stanza, they held a 71-62 advantage.

The Bulls maintained their comfortable cushion early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavs continues to draw closer, with instant-offense reserve guard Dion Waiters playing a role in their push. Irving would also be a factor as the game entered the stretch run, but clutch shots from the likes of Dunleavy, Noah, Augustin and Butler ensured that the Bulls kept some separation from their hosts.

A Dunleavy three-pointer with 38.1 seconds remaining to give the Bulls a 96-87 lead sealed the deal, ending the reunion with their longtime, now former teammate.