CLEVELAND — Cleveland won’t be the destination, but it looks like Joakim Noah could be going on vacation real soon.
LeBron James did it all once again, especially down the stretch, as the Cavaliers defeated the Chicago Bulls 112-102 Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 2 of a best-of-seven series.
Cleveland holds a 2-0 lead in the series, with Game 3 slated for Thursday in Chicago.
“It’s all or nothing for us,” said James, who put up 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in another epic postseason performance. “The most important game right now is Game 3.
“We know what the long-term goal is. I’m not going to sit here and say what it is every day. The most important game right now is Game 3. We’re getting ready for it right now.”
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After James made a double-pump, left-handed scoop shot and two tough fadeaway jumpers in a three-possession stretch late in the game, the Bulls may soon be getting ready for vacation.
Noah, who scored a playoff career-high 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds a day after blasting the city of Cleveland, was booed throughout the game, but made no attempt to make amends.
“You think Cleveland’s cool?” Noah asked. “I never heard anybody say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’”
If the Bulls don’t find an answer for James, they’ll be golfing or fishing — somewhere — in the very near future.
All the 6-foot-8, 250-pound small forward did was make 16 of 23 shots from the field, including two of four 3-pointers, and all six of his free throws in 41 minutes of action.
“Every time I caught it they were daring me to shoot the ball, telling me I couldn’t shoot or I can’t make jump shots,” James said of the Bulls. “They asked me to shoot a jumper, so I did that — over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I continued to make them.”
James scored 15 points in the final 7:56, including that three-possession sequence that erased all hope for Chicago.
“It’s a great feeling,” the 25-year-old said. “Every shot you put up, you feel like it’s going in, no matter the difficulty of it. There’s nobody who can guard you at that time.”
On a night when Shaquille O’Neal (eight points, seven rebounds in 15 minutes) and Mo Williams (12 points on 2-of-8 shooting, six assists) weren’t real big factors, James got some big-time help from Jamario Moon, who had a playoff career-high 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc, and Anthony Parker, who had nine on 3-of-5 from long range.
“After I hit the second one, it was pretty much throwing it into the ocean,” Moon said.
Antawn Jamison added 14 points for Cleveland, which finished 10-of-20 from 3-point territory and shot a sizzling .563 from the field overall (40-of-71). The Cavaliers also made 22 of 24 free throws (.917), a category they finished dead last in during the regular season.
Williams didn’t hit his first shot until the 4:36 mark of the third period and O’Neal never returned after picking up his fourth foul 4:27 into the third, but James came to the rescue again and again, especially down the stretch.
“It’s a sight to see,” Jamison said. “To see how close the game was, and for him to take over, you just have to realize you are witnessing history.”
The Bulls — who got 23 points and eight assists from Derrick Rose, 20 points, six rebounds and five assists from Luol Deng and 14 points off the bench from Flip Murray — played much better than they did in a 96-83 loss in Game 1.
Chicago led by as many as four in the third quarter, but James’ heroics and Moon’s perfect 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc in the fourth were too much to overcome.
“We didn’t do anything tricky,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We just came down and threw (James) the ball and he made plays in crunch time.”
Up as many as 10 in both the first and second quarters, the Cavaliers led just 52-50 at halftime despite shooting .556 from the field (20-of-36).
The main reason for that was Chicago’s 13-2 advantage in second-chance points and 8-1 edge in offensive rebounds, where Noah was particularly effective.
The 6-11, 232-pound center had 12 points in the opening half, including a personal 6-0 run that tied the game at 50 before James scored to put the Cavaliers up two at intermission.
James provided the two most memorable plays of the first half, throwing down a monster slam over James Johnson with 59.4 seconds to go in the first period and recovering to swat a Deng layup attempt with 4:05 to go in the second, though he may have gotten away with a foul on the latter.
“It feels great to have a front-row seat,” Moon said. “To me, he’s the best player in basketball.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.