CHICAGO: The Cavaliers followed up their best half of the season with what was most certainly their worst offensive quarter in Saturday's 100-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Despite missing starters Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs carried a 61-53 lead into the half before the Bulls took command of the game in the third quarter. The Cavs helped them by making just 3 of 21 shots and scoring a season-low nine points.
The Cavs got inside on the Bulls with relative ease, and without Joakim Noah (out with a thumb injury) in the middle protecting the basket, it should have meant plenty of easy scores. But the Cavs blew at least six shots in the paint in the third, opening the way for the Bulls, who had an equally easy time getting inside with Varejao missing.
The Bulls made a stronger effort to attack the basket in the third quarter. When the shots stopped falling for the Cavs, they quickly fell out of the race.
The Bulls opened an 89-75 lead in the fourth that the Cavs cut to three in the final minutes, but Anthony Parker missed an open jumper, J.J. Hickson was stripped going to the basket and Parker had a pair of 3-pointers spin out on him as the Bulls held on.
J.J. Hickson had 21 points and eight rebounds off the bench in his finest effort in weeks and Antawn Jamison had 19 points and nine rebounds, leading five Cavs players in double figures. Leon Powe, starting in place of Varejao, had 14 points and six rebounds and rookie Manny Harris had 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in his second straight start.
The Cavs displayed an incredibly gutsy effort in the first half. Despite being down three key starters, they built a 10-point lead in the first quarter and maintained it most of the half.
When Powe's three-point play put the Cavs up 41-35 with 6:08 left in the half, Chicago's Kurt Thomas responded by putting his hands on his hips and looking up at the scoreboard incredulously. No one inside the United Center could believe how well the Cavs had played.
All of that changed in the third quarter.
Jamison spoke before the game about the four or five minute stretches that have destroyed any positive progress the Cavs make during games and sabotages any chance at victory.
This time, it lasted seven minutes. Ramon Sessions' driving layup with 8:25 left in the third quarter put the Cavs up 65-60. It was their last basket from the floor until Hickson's fadeaway jumper with 1:29 remaining. By then, the Bulls had built an 80-70 lead.