CLEVELANDPerhaps they were motivated by losing an exhibition game to them, but the Bulls (2-0) took the Cavaliers (1-1) to the woodshed Friday night, winning a 115-86 laugher at Quicken Loans Arena, showing no mercy in the process.
While it was another balanced effort from the teams startersforwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer sparked them early, while Rip Hamilton had a strong third quarterdiminutive backup point guard Nate Robinson stole the show.
Again emphasizing their transition game, the Bulls jumped out to a quick start, with Boozer (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists)a former Cavaliers draft pick, who controversially left via free agency, something fans still rememberleading the way. Boozer continued to show off his high level of conditioning by running the floor for two fast-break dunks, as well as knocking down his mid-range jumper, to help the visitors gain a bit of separation early.
Deng (14 points, five rebounds) displayed a similar effectiveness against both Clevelands set defense and on the breakin the halfcourt, the All-Star utilized his back-to-the-basket gameand picked up where his fellow Duke product left off. Kirk Hinrich got in the mix toward the end of the period, attacking off the dribble, and at the end of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 32-16, by virtue of 74 percent shooting from the field.
Chicagos second unit, plus Deng, maintained and then extended the wide winning margin with stifling defense that forced the hosts into turnovers and led to more transition scoring, as well as solid execution on set plays, of which Taj Gibson was a prime beneficiary. A well-balanced attack offensively, combined with their usual stellar defense clearly bothered an inexperienced Cavs bunch, which struggled to both manufacture offense and get stops defensively.
Robinson (16 points, 12 assists), in what looks like it could become a pattern, sparked the team off the bench with both his playmaking and when the regulars returned to the court, the Bulls kept their vice grip on the home team intact, despite Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (15 points), last seasons NBA Rookie of the Year, starting to assert himself late in the period. Robinson and Cleveland swingman Alonzo Gee exchanged three-pointers in the waning moments of the second quarterthe latter coming at the halftime buzzerand at the intermission, the Bulls were ahead, 60-35.
After the break, the Bulls level of execution saw some slippage and although there wasnt much noticeable damage on the scoreboard, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau clearly wasnt pleased. Hinrich going to the bench with his fourth foul early in the third quarter didnt help matters, as Irving remained persistent in attacking off the dribble, aided by the efforts of the athletic Gee.
The visitors emphasized ball movement to find their groove again, as Hamiltons (19 points) patented mid-range game started clicking and with the Cavaliers still having ball-security issues, their guests first-half dominance reappeared. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held an 83-56 advantage.
At the outset of the extended garbage time otherwise known as the fourth quarter, the Bulls quickly pushed their lead to above a 30-point spread, prompting Thibodeau to put an all-reserve lineup on the floor, though it didnt change the results. However, the coach grew dissatisfied with the play of his second unit and reinserted four of his five startersMarco Belinelli played in place of Hamiltonand the contest remained out of reach for Cleveland.
Eventually, whatever bothered Thibodeau was resolved, at least enough for him to remove his regulars and allow the likes of rookie Marquis Teague, making his regular-season NBA debut, and deep reserve Vladimir Radmanovic to see some action. In all, it was a remarkably impressive early-season performance, one that showed that the Bulls by-committee approach still leaves them amongst the leagues upper-echelon clubs.