The Cavs entered Saturday night's game against the Bulls losers of five straight, including an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Celtics the night before. But Cleveland looked like a rejuvenated team against the depressing Bulls, building a 15-point second-half lead and withstanding a late charge from Chicago because Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer couldn't make layups.
The Bulls actually completely erased that 15-point deficit on the backs of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Tony Snell, taking a one-point lead with four minutes to go on a Snell bucket. However, a couple poor turnovers and missed shots later and the Cavs went back up seven. Chicago narrowed the game to two points in the final minute, and they had several great looks to tie the game, but Deng had a floater rim out, Noah missed two put-back attempts and Boozer missed an absolute gimmie.
Boozer was pretty terrible for most of the night, scoring 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting while posting a -11. And yet, he played 30 minutes to just 24 for Gibson despite Taj putting up 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Furthermore, Gibson was a +10 and the Bulls' defense clearly stabilized when he was in the game. The Bulls made their run in the fourth in large part due to Gibson's ability to disrupt the Cavs' offense, and he made things happen on the other end as well.
The loss also marred big-time efforts from Deng and Snell. Deng tallied 27 points and 11 assists, marking his fourth straight game with 20 points or more. He was excellent from mid-range and took advantage of the smaller Dion Waiters in the post on numerous occasions, whether it be scoring on his own or creating good looks for others. On the negative side, we did see Deng's limitations on display several times in the fourth quarter when he was tasked with trying to create his own shot in isolation situations.
Meanwhile, Snell had the best game of his young career after a strong showing against the Pistons. The rookie had 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 3-of-5 from three, and while he was a team-worst -13, I wouldn't put too much of that on him. What was most impressive about Snell's performance was his ability to score off the dribble, as evidenced by his driving layup that gave the Bulls that short-lived lead late in the fourth quarter.
For the Cavs, the biggest (literally) story of the night was the dominance of Andrew Bynum. The oft-injured big man looked rather spry in racking up 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, thoroughly outplaying Noah in the process. Bynum had his way with Noah, using his size and skill to score in the post while also blocking Jo's shots with alarming regularity on the other end.
Noah's ineffectiveness is something that I feel has gone a bit under the radar this season. Jo did have seven assists last night, but he had just four points on 2-of-10 shooting and only managed to grab eight rebounds in 37 minutes. On the year, Noah is averaging just 8.8 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting under 45 percent from the field, and his defensive impact of last year is nowhere to be found. One has to hope it's just him still getting in his groove after the preseason groin injury and not a sign of things to come.
Finally, while Waiters was abused in the post by Deng, he did make a nice audition for the Bulls offensively. The guard came off the bench to post an efficient 20 points on 10 shots, and he showed that ability to get offense for himself off the dribble. Waiters has been plagued by inconsistency in his young career, but the talent is clearly there.
The Bulls are now 1-3 without Derrick Rose, with all three of those losses being pretty brutal. Get used to it, folks. Pelicans up next on Monday at the United Center as the disastrous Circus Trip is mercifully over.