Cavaliers halt Bulls’ 7-game winining streak
CLEVELAND — Chicago’s seven-game winning streak is over, but the Bulls were as good Thursday night in a loss to the Cavaliers as they were while piling up victories.
LeBron James scored 34 points and handed out nine assists Thursday, and the Cavs outlasted the Bulls 115-112.
Kevin Love added 27 points and seven rebounds for the Cavaliers, who don’t play again until their NBA Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors on Christmas.
Rookie Lauri Markannen scored 25 points to lead the Bulls, who lost for the first time this season with Nikola Mirotic on the court. Mirotic scored 15 points off the bench. Chicago’s Denzel Valentine added 18 points, and Kris Dunn recorded a season-high 14 assists to go with 10 points.
“We did some things tonight that were as good as any we had in the last eight (games),” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The seven wins and this one tonight, to be able to be in a one-possession game and be able to tie it on the last possession shows that growth that we have had as a team. The last time we played Cleveland in our home building, they absolutely drilled us.”
Indeed, the Cavs walked to a 113-91 win in Chicago on Dec. 4. In this one, James scored 11 in the fourth quarter. His two free throws with 11.1 seconds left put the Cavs ahead by three. James earlier hit a tough fadeaway jumper that splashed with 1:01 to go for a six-point lead.
“I had got to the middle a couple times against Kris Dunn,” James said, “so I figured he would try to take away the middle on that last one, and you know, he kind of took away the middle and I knew I could get to my fadeaway, so I was happy I was able to knock it down.”
The Cavs (24-9) got 15 points from Kyle Korver and 10 each from Dwyane Wade and Jeff Green. They have won 19 of 21 games and have scored at least 100 points in 26 straight.
Green dribbled the length of the floor and knocked down a 22-footer over Mirotic as time expired in the third quarter to give Cleveland an 82-79 advantage. There were already 24 lead changes by the end of the third period and 26 for the game.
Cleveland was ahead by as many as eight in the first half and led 58-56 at halftime. James scored 16 and Love added 13 points before the break. Markannen paced the Bulls with 11 first-half points, showing his previously sore back was OK with a nasty dunk over Jae Crowder with 52 seconds left in the second quarter. The dunk capped an 8-0 Chicago run and tied the game at 56.
Markannen missed three games last week due to the back issue.
“They’ve been playing really inspired basketball now that they have most if not everybody back,” Love said. “A couple of guys still out, but they’ve been playing great basketball for a few weeks. They were pretty good tonight.”
Love added that Markkanen will be “a heck of a player.”
Markannen, who struggled in his first two games on the court after missing time, finished 11 of 17 from the floor Thursday. He countered Korver’s four-point play in the fourth quarter with one of his own with 2:12 left to make it 109-106 Cleveland.
“I feel like when you’re out for a week, you kind of forget how to play,” Markannen said. “I can’t imagine how it would be like when you’re out for a year. After a week, it feels weird to play again. Getting some good practices in and a couple of games has allowed me to get my confidence back out there.”
NOTES: Cavs PG Isaiah Thomas was officially ruled out of Cleveland’s Christmas tilt with the Warriors by coach Tyronn Lue on Thursday. Thomas, a two-time All-Star, has yet to play for Cleveland because of hip injuries suffered last season with the Celtics, but is nearing his debut. He was assigned to the Cavs’ G League affiliate to practice Thursday. ... Lue was a late scratch Thursday because of an undisclosed illness that must have come on after he spoke to reporters in his usual pregame spot. Larry Drew took his place. ... Cavs G J.R. Smith was held out of the game due to left knee soreness. ... Injured Bulls guards Zach LaVine (left ACL) and Cameron Payne (right foot) will do non-contact drills Friday when the team travels to Boston, according to the Chicago Tribune. Both players are weeks away from a return. ... The Bulls are the first team in NBA history to win seven in a row immediately after losing 10 straight.