Playing without Derrick Rose for the third consecutive game, the Chicago Bulls rolled to a 114-75 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls improved to a league-best 14-3.
The Bulls placed four starters in double figures and received another strong effort from the "Bench Mob." After pouring in a season-high 31 points in Tuesday night's game against the Phoenix Suns, Carlos Boozer posted 19 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals while shooting 9-for-15 from the field in 31 minutes of action. Luol Deng had 21 points and eight rebounds and sat out the final nine minutes, 21 seconds of the game. C.J. Watson, in his second start of the season, clearly appeared to favor his left arm but had another fabulous night running coach Tom Thibodeau's team, dropping 15 points, seven assists and two steals in almost 31 minutes. Rip Hamilton added 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting, while Joakim Noah again brought plenty of energy, scoring eight points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking two shots.
The Bulls got off to a hot start, leading 15-8 just over four minutes into the game, although the Cavs (6-7) went on a 10-2 run to take a brief, 18-17 lead. Cavs rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, whom Rose praised earlier in the day, scored (11 points) or assisted (two) on 16 of his team's 26 first-quarter points. However, the former Duke star scored just two points in the final three quarters as the Cavs fell behind 34-26 after one quarter of play and 63-44 at halftime.
Backup point guard John Lucas III had struggled in his last two games, but produced a key nine-point stretch in the second quarter that helped the Bulls extend their lead, knocking down two mid-range jumpers, a deep three-pointer and handing out an assist to Kyle Korver for a layup. The Bulls led by as many as 42 points against the Cavs, who had been playing well.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, they had three players go down Friday night because of injury. Both Taj Gibson and Noah rolled their left ankle in the second quarter. Although Noah's injury appeared much worse -- the 6-foot-11 center badly limped off the court and grimaced in pain on the bench -- Gibson was the one who did not return to the game. Gibson's injury was termed as a sprain. In addition, Lucas strained his left groin, the same injury Hamilton had suffered Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Clippers, in the first half and nursed it on the sidelines. He played in the fourth quarter but quickly asked to be subbed out and was replaced by Mike James, whom the Bulls signed last week.
It remains to be seen how the players will respond to their respective injuries, but Gibson could very well be out a few days. The Bulls have been looking for a reserve big man ever since Kurt Thomas signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. Gibson's injury doesn't seem to be serious, but Bulls general manager Gar Forman may intensify his search if needed.
Thibodeau emptied out his bench in Friday night's blowout win as the Bulls shot 55.4 percent from the field and 6-for-9 from three-point range and piled up 27 assists on 46 field-goals. On the other end of the court, the defensive-minded squad outrebounded the Cavs 54-38 and allowed the home team to shoot a paltry 30.3 percent from the field. The Bulls did a solid job of keeping their turnovers low in the first half, but ended up with 20, a number Thibodeau will certainly bring up to his players.
Next up, the Bulls return to action as they start a four-game homestand Saturday night against the Charlotte Bobcats (3-12) at the United Center.