It wasn’t picture-perfect, but a balanced effort—six players, including all five starters, placed in double figures—propelled the Bulls to a 96-81 victory over Cleveland Monday night at the United Center.
A quick start by Derrick Rose (16 points on 8-for-21 shooting, seven assists), as both a playmaker and scorer, and balanced offense by the Bulls (3-3) in general at the game’s outset, though they were countered by Cavaliers (3-5) center Andrew Bynum, a last-minute starter. The oft-injured big man, while clearly not in peak physical condition, was still an interior presence and actually carried the visitors offensive load in the early going.
Despite scoring from unexpected sources such as swingmen Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles, the Bulls held a 20-17 advantage after a quarter of play.
As Cleveland utilized a rotation featuring the likes of obscure big man Henry Sims and undrafted rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova, the Bulls’ second unit built a slim cushion in the second period behind the play of top reserve Taj Gibson.
With the Bulls’ regulars back on the court, their lead gradually ballooned to double figures, as Jimmy Butler and Carlos Boozer (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots) were major factors in the home team’s success, not to mention Rose’s stifling defense against Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (16 points on 6-for-19 shooting), holding his counterpart to 0-for-5 first-half shooting. Speaking of All-Stars, center Joakim Noah also got in the mix, helping the Bulls take a 43-34 lead into the intermission.
After the break, Butler and Boozer continued to play well, but led by the scoring of shooting guard Dion Waiters, who closed the second half in strong fashion, and power forward Tristan Thompson’s interior play, Cleveland kept things within striking distance.
Rose, while not at his most efficient on the evening, began to impact the game as a scorer, complementing his defensive work on Irving—the Cavaliers point guard didn’t hit his first field goal until the final minute of the third quarter—and solid distribution, but the Bulls couldn’t pull away, as the trio of Bynum, Thompson and Waiters wouldn’t let up. With faltering offense contributing to the team’s woes, heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were still able to maintain a 64-60 edge.
Cleveland would cut things to a one-point game early in the fourth quarter, as Irving finally started to influence the contest, setting up somewhat of a head-to-head battle, though in fits and spurts, with Rose.
Reserve sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr. (season-high 15 points) also made a difference for the Bulls and after an acrobatic Rose layup in transition, the Bulls obtained some breathing room, taking a three-possession lead into the game’s stretch run. Curiously, Rose wasn’t in the game—after the aforementioned layup, he appeared to grimace and hobble—but the Bulls cruised late, extending their advantage and putting together a second consecutive win.