CLEVELAND—The annual “Circus Trip” ended on a downer Saturday night, as the Bulls' (7-8) comeback effort went to waste, when a trio of potentially game-tying point-blank putbacks were missed, leading to a 97-93 defeat at the hands of the Cavaliers (5-12) at Quicken Loans Arena.
After a 9-0 Cavs start to the contest, the Bulls had to play from behind at the outset of the game. The interior tandem of oft-injured center Andrew Bynum (20 points, 10 rebounds) and emerging power forward Tristan Thompson (14 points, 14 rebounds) combined with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (19 points, six assists) to help Cleveland build an early cushion.
Behind the outside marksmanship of veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich (12 points), passing of All-Star small forward Luol Deng (27 points, 11 assists) and scoring of the power-forward duo of Carlos Boozer (12 points, seven rebounds) and backup Taj Gibson (18 points), the Bulls gradually inched their way back into the contest, cutting to a 27-25 game by closing the opening period on a 9-0 run.
Gibson, coming off a career-high night in the team’s last game, and Deng, who switched his focus from distributing to scoring, carried the offensive load in the second quarter, helping the Bulls temporarily seize the lead. But second-year guard Dion Waiters (20 points), the subject of recent trade rumors, came off the bench, and along with veteran reserves Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao, kept the Cavs in the tight-knit affair. At the intermission the Bulls trailed, 56-51, largely a product of allowing 59-percent shooting from the field.
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After the break, the Cavs opened up a double-digit lead, going on a 10-2 run, as Bynum continued to be a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. Rookie swingman Tony Snell (18 points) made some positive contributions in the third quarter, but with Thompson remaining active on the inside and guards Irving and Waiters doing damage from the outside, the Bulls couldn’t make significant inroads and heading into the final stanza, the visitors faced a 77-66 deficit.
Deng, Gibson and Snell sparked the Bulls early in the fourth period, as the rookie seemingly gained confidence as the game progressed, keying a 7-0 run to make the contest competitive again midway through the frame. A Snell layup with 3:59 remaining gave the Bulls their first lead of the second half, 88-87, after being down by as many as 15 points in the previous quarter.
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But the Cavs solved the Bulls’ smothering defense in the period, going on an 8-0 run before a Deng triple made it a four-point contest with 1:21 left. A Boozer layup with under a minute left, making it a 95-93 affair, was sandwiched by a Cleveland shot-clock violation and Bynum missing on the block, leading to a Bulls timeout with 17.4 seconds on the clock.
Deng missed a runner and Noah failed to convert two point-blank putbacks, followed by Boozer missing a layup of his own and then fouling Thompson after he finally corralled the defensive rebound with nine seconds remaining. Thompson hit both attempts from the charity stripe to seal the deal, foiling the Bulls’ bid to win a seventh straight game in Cleveland.