Almost inevitably, however, the Cavs put together a late-game run—fueled by another transcendent performance from LeBron James—to claim a 112-102 win.
There were no surprises, here. (Well, Jamario Moon’s three-point shooting, perhaps.) It’s a story that’s played out many times in postseason history.
However, as well as those three played, it was clearly all Chicago could do just to stay even with the deep and powerful Cavaliers.
Cleveland, meanwhile, looked calm and confident, even when the Bulls carried the lead into the fourth quarter.
There was no panic. The Cavs were puzzled, perhaps, and even a bit irritated; but there were no signs of worry, no indications that they were about to come unraveled.
Sure enough, Moon stepped up to deliver three three-point daggers in the final period, and James flipped the switch that launched his latest late-game heroics.
The Bulls were deflated, and the game was over.
As the series moves to Chicago with the Bulls in a two-game hole, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is clearly a team on the rise.
Noah grew up a little Monday night. He relished the challenge of wrestling with Shaquille O’Neal, and he used his youth and quickness to outplay the Cavs’ elder statesman—and anyone else Cleveland threw at him.
Noah’s 25 points and 13 rebounds paced the Bulls. He’s been outspoken with his comments about this series (and others), and backed them up with intensity and focus.
Rose, meanwhile, gave the Cavaliers fits with his explosiveness, finishing with 23 points and eight assists. Deng chipped in a workmanlike 20 points.
Another bright spot: rookie forward Taj Gibson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes.
The series isn’t over, and the Bulls return home confident that they can compete with Cleveland.
They’re right. Although the odds may be against them this series, their future holds great promise.
With ample salary cap space, Chicago is in a position to attract one or two key free agents this summer. While James would head any wish list, more realistic options for the Bulls include players like Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, or even Golden State’s Anthony Morrow.
Complementing a proven star like Bosh with a rising prospect like Morrow, and adding them to the current mix of talent, would propel Chicago to the top of the Eastern Conference class.
The NBA free agent derby will be a wild scramble this summer, but it’s a good bet that the Bulls will do what’s necessary to improve their team and become a legitimate contender once again.
In the meantime, Chicago fans can take heart in the fact that this year’s edition of their team is going toe-to-toe with one of the league’s elite teams.
Win or lose, the experience gained in this playoff series will serve the Bulls well as they seek to return to championship form in the years ahead.