James tallied a game-high 34 points to go with six rebounds and nine assists, while Kevin Love scored 27 points and grabbed seven boards. Dwyane Wade came off the bench to score 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting for Cleveland.
Lauri Markkanen (25 points) was one of four Bulls starters to score in double figures. Kris Dunn had 10 points and 14 assists to post the third double-double of his career.
Denzel Valentine, who scored 18 points, had an opportunity to tie the game after the Bulls called a timeout following James' second made free throw. Valentine's three-point attempt hit the front rim inside the final two seconds, and Wade collected the rebound to run out the clock.
Given the talent gap between the teams, the Bulls couldn't afford to make many mistakes. While Chicago committed only 12 turnovers, The Athletic's Darnell Mayberry thought they played a big role in the final result:
Darnell Mayberry @DarnellMayberry
Turnovers killing the #Bulls. They've only got 10 tonight, but every single one of them feels huge. Just ruining their offensive flow and shifting momentum to the Cavs. #BullsNation2017-12-22 01:45:10
The Bulls turned the ball over on each of their first four possessions of the fourth quarter, which helped the Cavs build a 10-point lead, 89-79, with 10:15 left in the game.
Chicago responded by going on a 9-0 run to cut Cleveland's advantage to a point, and the Bulls never trailed by more than seven points for the remainder of the contest. Markkanen tied it at 94-94 with 5:53 remaining, but the Bulls couldn't take the lead.
Sports Illustrated's Jeremy Woo thought Thursday was another example of James' ability to rise to the occasion against Chicago:
Jeremy Woo @JeremyWoo
LeBron is why the Bulls can’t have nice things2017-12-22 02:10:15
James brought the excitement right out of the gate as he connected with Jose Calderon on an alley-oop for the Cavs' second bucket of the game. The team shared a replay of the jam on Twitter:
Cleveland Cavaliers @cavs
Lobs in The Land. #AllForOne https://t.co/zbLZ7Z0Vrl2017-12-22 00:15:34
The four-time MVP scored 11 of Cleveland's 33 points in the fourth quarter, including the Cavs' final four points. While it wasn't one of James' standout individual performances this year, it illustrated how much his team leans on him in clutch situations.
Even with the win, the best news for Cleveland came before the contest, when Isaiah Thomas was in full uniform warming up. The NBA showed him working with his teammates during the Cavs' shootaround:
Great to see @isaiahthomas take the floor with his @cavs teammates! #ThatSLOWgrind https://t.co/UOPXBaP20f2017-12-22 00:01:54
The Vertical's Shams Charania reported Sunday that Thomas is hoping to get back by early January. Thomas' brief cameo on the court Thursday would seemingly indicate he's somewhat close to returning from his hip injury.
The Cavs have the next three days off before they take on the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. It will be the first time the teams have crossed paths since Golden State defeated Cleveland in the 2017 NBA Finals.
Still, both teams will have more than enough star power to make the Cavs vs. Warriors the most anticipated game during a busy Christmas Day.
The Bulls will return to the court Saturday to meet the Boston Celtics, whom they most recently beat by 23 points on Dec. 11. The Celtics were without Kyrie Irving in that game, and Chicago will be on the road this time around.