CLEVELAND: If this experiment with Andrew Bynum is a success, if the Cavaliers can really make him a pillar of the offense and defense, then Saturday’s 97-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls might be remembered as the turning point.
Bynum played 30 minutes, scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked five shots — all season highs and on the second night of a back-to-back, no less.
The victory ended the Cavs’ dreadful five-game losing streak and delivered a much-needed jolt to a franchise that stumbled badly through the season’s first month.
The victory, of course, didn’t come easy. The Cavs squandered a 14-point lead over the game’s final 11 minutes and didn’t secure the win until two free throws from Tristan Thompson gave the Cavs a 97-93 lead with nine seconds left.
Prior to that, the Bulls had four clear looks at the basket to tie the game in the final seconds, but Luol Deng missed a runner and Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer combined to miss three tips. Thompson finally secured the rebound and the victory.
It has been a rocky return for Bynum, who has oscillated between taking small steps forward and getting frozen out of the offense. The Cavs have struggled at times to incorporate him into the offense, but all of that changed Saturday.
“Tonight everybody saw a little bit of what Andrew is capable of bringing to the table for us,” coach Mike Brown said.
Bynum blocked two of Joakim Noah’s shots on one possession, he zipped a cross-court pass to Alonzo Gee that ultimately ended with a 3-pointer for C.J. Miles. He was aggressive in the post, getting to his spots with ease and demonstrating a touch rarely seen during his first 12 games, when he shot just 37 percent.
Dion Waiters had 20 points off the bench, his third consecutive 20-point game; Kyrie Irving had 19 points and six assists; and Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 14 rebounds in his best performance in a week.
But the star of the night was Bynum, who has been stoic throughout this return. His fist pump following a defensive stand late in the game, as Waiters sprinted to the other end for a layup, was the most emotion he has shown on the floor this season.
“He’s had that bounce for a while,” Brown said. “You could see the bounce coming back and that’s exciting. He’s very skilled and a big man. You get that bounce back, it can be exciting.”
The Cavs could’ve made it much easier on themselves after building an 82-68 lead on a 3-pointer from Waiters with 10:41 left, but the Bulls kept coming and wore down the Cavs.
A finger roll layup from Tony Snell with 3:59 left gave the Bulls an 88-87 lead with 3:59 left. The two teams traded baskets the rest of the night.
Deng, the subject of trade rumors in recent days, had 27 points and 11 assists for the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Snell had 18 points and Taj Gibson had 18 points off the bench.
Miles returned to the lineup after missing four games with a strained calf. He scored six points on two 3-pointers, but was limited to just 16 minutes. Backup power forward Earl Clark missed the game with an illness.
In the four games Miles missed with a calf injury, the Cavs totaled just 27 points out of their starting shooting guards and small forwards. That’s an average of about 3.4 points per position per game from the two spots typically expected to carry the scoring burden on most teams.
“It’s concerning,” Brown said. “We’ve got to keep trying to find other ways to get scoring and/or get it done defensively. We’re playing some young guys in that spot. It’s an adjustment for them to figure out how they can step up and help us in that department.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.