The Bulls only had 4 points from their bench tonight, but that was because key reserves Taj Gibson and DJ Augustin were put into the starting lineup. Luckily both had huge games as the shorthanded Bulls notched a very impressive road win against former teammate Luol Deng and the Cavaliers.
Taj Gibson immediately made an impact in a rare start for him, tying a career-high with 26 points on 11-15 shooting in nearly 43 minutes (also saw a record-high amount of Taj-faces to referees). With no Carlos Boozer and their usual 'small 4' now on the other team, the Bulls had few ways to rest Taj, so maybe there is some explanation why none of those points came in the 4th quarter (or maybe he was emulating a Boozer night?). Even when Thibs tried to get Taj out of the game at one point in the 2nd quarter, he kept going to the line for foul attempts keeping Cartier Martin's first-half cameo to only a few minutes.
The 4th was carried by DJ Augustin, who was in a similar situation (playing over 38 minutes) as while he at least had a backup, it was merely the newly-resigned Mike James. Augustin not only held his own against a physically imposing Kyrie Irving, by the end of the night he surpassed the (regressing?) star, scoring his 27 points on 14 shots while Irving needed 5 more attempts to get to 26. Augustin also had 7 assists while Joakim Noah had 6 of his own, as the two of them running high pick-and-rolls wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers defense, usually because Irving offered little in the way of an initial resistance and their bigs were slow (or unaware) to rotate.
There were lots of open shots against the Cavs defense. Augustin was 5-8 from three, Dunleavy was 4-5 for his 22 points, with Jimmy Butler doing his best (1-7, 4-12 overall, yeesh) to make the percentage a merely-outstanding 47.6%. The Cavs did well from there also at over 42%, with Kyrie Irving's 5 makes in the 2nd quarter getting the Cavaliers their only lead of the night. The Cavs also did a great job on the offensive glass (a Boozer-absence effect) with Anderson Varejao getting 7 and his team having a 34.5% ORR (Noah had 18 boards, and had a well-played and fun battle with his hair-doppleganger). Cleveland also came close at times in the 4th with similar success spreading the Bulls out with small-ball and getting the misses, but a quick Augustin-led run put the lead back to 10 for the Bulls with only a few minutes remaining.
In his first game against his former team, Luol Deng shot the ball poorly (2-11) but eventually started just forcing his way to the FT line where he hit 7-9 to make his box score a bit less awful. Deng went over to the Bulls bench pre-game to give some love to the coaching staff, but saved the same for his teammates until after the game.
The Cavs made a nice trade in getting Deng, but tonight showed how they were in that spot in the first place and how far they have yet to go. Their defense was just poor throughout as the Bulls didn't just go bananas from three but shot over 55% on 2-pointers with their own team at 36%. Free agent acquisition Jarrett Jack couldn't even outplay Mike James and looks just as old, and #1 draft pick Anthony Bennett received a DNP. There also has to be a lingering concern about Irving's status as a superstar you really should be catering a franchise to, as he was outplayed by a guy the Bulls pulled off the scrap heap and has simply not progressed this season. The Cavs fell to 15-27 while the Bulls are now 1 game over .500 at 21-20, as for one night even losing 2 more rotation players wasn't enough to stop the winning.