Chicago Bulls jump to big lead – then hold back furious Cleveland Cavaliers rally for key season end win – The Mercury News

Bestinau got that-

The Chicago Bulls knew what was at stake the moment they landed in Cleveland. The Cavaliers have been chasing the Bulls for weeks, aided by a recent slump by the Bulls in their quest to overtake them in the Eastern Conference.

With just one game lead on Saturday, the final meeting of the regular season gave the Bulls a chance to keep the Cavaliers in their wake. Every fan of the sold-out Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse seemed to understand the gravity of the night.

The result was not picture perfect. It didn’t have to be. Sometimes it was sloppy, other times brave. Both teams struggled to get the ball right. But for the Bulls, the only numbers that mattered were those on the board at the final buzzer: a 98-94 win over one of their closest conference competitors.

“We played desperately tonight, we understood how important the game was and I think it showed,” said center Nikola Vučević. “We’re a good defensive team. We were everywhere. We just have to keep doing it consistently. We’re capable of doing it. We have the talent – that’s clear. We just have to want to do it.”

The Bulls (43-31) kept their one game lead over the Toronto Raptors (42-32) for fifth in the East, while the Cavaliers (41-33) dropped to seventh.

Coach Billy Donovan used the game to test different rotations – he swapped Ayo Dosunmu for Javonte Green in the starting lineup and put Patrick Williams in the first and third quarters to allow for longer stints in the second and fourth. The smaller opening rotation benefited the Bulls, who focused on breaking through stagnant ball moves.

The Bulls spread the ball rigorously in the opening quarter to set the tone for the game, finishing with 23 assists on 36 baskets made. And the balanced lineup allowed Alex Caruso and Dosunmu to capture the kind of selfless stats both players favor: Caruso finished with seven assists, eight rebounds, two steals and 10 points on five attempts, while Dosunmu had five assists and 11 points. on six shots.

It was still an imperfect offensive performance. The Bulls missed 11 straight shots from behind the arc in a range from the first to the third quarter, finishing 23.8% (5-for-21) from a 3-point range. They turned the ball three times after stepping on the sidelines.

But the Bulls were bolstered by their star duo Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, who returned to the field together after DeRozan missed the last game in New Orleans with an adductor strain. LaVine led the Bulls by 25 points, while DeRozan scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 22.

The Bulls were also helped by the fact that the Cavaliers were completely confused with the ball in their hands. Cleveland shot 31% from the field in the first half, including 1-for-18 from a 3-point range.

The Bulls contributed to the slow offense — picking five steals and forcing eight turnovers — but the Cavaliers spent the first three quarters missing almost everything, including open shots. It was hard to determine how much the Bulls contributed to that funk.

“If an NBA team is 1-for-18, it certainly wasn’t our defense,” Donovan said. “I thought we were working like crazy on our defense, but when that ball goes up in the air, nobody really has control over it.”

Then suddenly they weren’t there anymore. The Cavaliers narrowed a deficit of 19 points to three points in the fourth quarter, going 11-for-19 after shooting 37% in the first three quarters and hitting a trio of 3-pointers. But even with Darius Garland and Caris LeVert leading the wave, the Bulls were able to hold off the comeback.

Still, the final minutes dragged on at a staccato pace as a series of shot-clock glitches jerked the game to successive stops. The Cavaliers tried to stretch the remaining seconds with fouls. Dosunmu fouled Garland when he took a three-pointer with 6.7 seconds left, but the Cavs guard missed two of his free throws and the Bulls held out.

Neither team broke 100 points, but the game still stood as an opening test for the Bulls as they got closer to the playoffs – which are just eight games away.

“I was just trying to lock myself up and treat it in preparation for the playoffs,” said Caruso. “I think it showed from the opening tip. I thought we were the better side for most of the game. I don’t think it came down to shots coming in, but to execution, the tenacity with which we played, really scrambling and each other Those are the things we’ve been talking about for a few weeks and really needed to do.”

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