CLEVELAND: The Cavs have enough problems beating the Chicago Bulls these days without their best players making errors. So it became evident early on the Cavs were in real trouble Wednesday when Alonzo Gee was yanked two minutes into the game for presumably a defensive miscue and Anderson Varejao had three turnovers in his first nine minutes.
The Cavs lost their 10th straight to the Bulls, 95-85, when they were again forced to play without their starting backcourt of Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving. Waiters missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left ankle, and with 40 percent of their offense on the bench, the Cavs again struggled to score.
They shot 37 percent and for the second consecutive game fell into a huge hole early that was too large to overcome. Coach Byron Scott shuffled his starting lineup again, removing Omri Casspi and inserting Daniel Gibson, in an effort to avoid the 30-17 hole the Cavs fell in during Monday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons.
It didn’t exactly work. The Cavs trailed 27-11 after the first quarter Wednesday and failed to recover despite their best efforts. Despite the lopsided start, this game was much closer than most of the recent games. The Cavs lost the last four games in this series prior to Wednesday by an average of 30 points.
Every time the Cavs made a run Wednesday, the Bulls answered with a basket to squelch any momentum.
The Cavs cut a 15-point deficit to nine in the fourth quarter, but a defensive breakdown gave Joakim Noah a clear path to the basket and Luol Deng followed on the Bulls’ next possession with a three-point play, extending the lead to 88-74 and ensuring the Cavs their seventh loss in their last eight games.
The Bulls were playing the second of a back-to-back and coming off a loss at home against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, when they scored a season-low 76 points. Like the Cavs, they were playing without their starting backcourt. Derrick Rose continues to recover from his knee surgery and Richard Hamilton is expected to miss at least another week with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. But the Bulls are better equipped to handle the personnel losses.
Marco Belinelli, who entered averaging 5.1 points, scored a season-high 23 points in place of Hamilton. Luol Deng had 22 points, while Noah had 13 points and 15 rebounds battling aVarejao.
Varejao extended his streak of consecutive double-doubles to 10 games with 11 points and 15 rebounds. He can tie the team record set by Elmore Smith with a double-double in Friday’s game at Minnesota. Even more impressive, he has grabbed at least 15 rebounds in every during the streak, but Wednesday night it was a struggle. He shot just 4 of 16 and seemed bothered by Noah, who plays with the same motor and energy as Varejao.
Varejao has been held under 10 rebounds just three times this year, and one of those came against the Bulls when he grabbed a season-low five working against Noah in the second game of the season.
“Varejao is playing off the charts,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. “Those rebounding numbers are staggering. Playmaking, toughness, he’s just doing so many different things.”
The Bulls have always been one of the best defensive teams under Thibodeau and were again on Wednesday, contesting shots and affecting passing lanes. Varejao and Jeremy Pargo epitomized the Cavs’ offensive struggles – they were a combined 7 of 28 shooting.
Donald Sloan (14 points, three assists) and Tyler Zeller (10 points, six rebounds) both supplied a spark off the bench, but it mattered little after the massive first-quarter deficit.
There was minor excitement late when Pargo was whistled for a technical for smacking Belinelli in the face with the ball. Belinelli fouled him on the fast break and Pargo flipped the ball behind him without looking, catching Belinelli on the chin. Deng took exception with it and got in Pargo’s face after the play, but the two spoke on the court after the game and seemed to smooth things out, shaking hands and walking away when it was over.