Even that was in doubt for a while thanks to the incredibly bad weather that hit downtown Cleveland late Wednesday afternoon, but the late-arriving Cavs pulled things together and pushed the Chicago Bulls to the limit at Quicken Loans Arena, where about 10,000 fans braved whiteout conditions.
Cleveland still lost 88-83 to extend its losing streak to six games, but at least it competed after dropping its five previous games by an average of 22.2 points.
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“The bottom line is to win games,” coach Byron Scott said. “That’s what we’re all here for. Right now, that moral victory, coming out and playing as hard as we did for 48 minutes, is a stepping stone.”
With the Cavs (7-15) having given up an average of 114.5 points in their previous five games, Scott changed his lineup and rotation against the Central Division-leading Bulls (12-8).
Daniel Gibson started at shooting guard, with Anthony Parker shifting to small forward and Joey Graham going to the bench. Antawn Jamison started at power forward for J.J. Hickson, who played nine minutes and didn’t score.
Rookie Manny Harris had six points and played great defense in 21 minutes off the bench, while Ramon Sessions, like Graham and the inactive Jamario Moon, did not play at all.
“We didn’t get the outcome we were looking for, but that’s something to build on,” said Scott, who plans to use the same lineup and rotation when the Cavs start a four-game road trip Saturday in Houston. “For the first time in a long time, our guys played hard.”
The Cavs led 83-82 after Anderson Varejao (17 points on 7-for-7 shooting, 12 rebounds) split a pair of free throws with 26.2 seconds to go, setting up the key play of the game.
Mo Williams fouled Chicago’s Derrick Rose (29 points, eight assists) immediately after getting beat, but officials awarded the Bulls point guard continuation on what turned into a three-point play with 19.6 seconds left.
“I couldn’t really tell,” Scott said when asked about the bucket counting. “I thought Mo fouled him a little further out.”
Rose’s bucket would not have counted at the high school or college levels, but it was typical NBA continuation, especially for a superstar.
“Derrick is a blur,” said Scott, who wanted Williams to push the Chicago point guard to the center of the floor instead of letting him go toward the baseline. “Sometimes he lulls you to sleep and then he blows right by you.”
Down 85-83, the Cavs called their final timeout. Williams, who moments earlier had a key turnover and a huge blunder that led to a Varejao turnover, missed a fadeaway jumper from the baseline. Gibson somehow got the rebound, but missed a short bank.
Chicago’s Joakim Noah (13 points, 14 rebounds) rebounded, got fouled and made two free throws with 6.2 seconds left, giving Cleveland its first six-game losing streak since Nov. 28-Dec. 8, 2007.
“I’m still sitting here thinking how it didn’t go in,” Gibson said of his short bank attempt. “If I take it 10 times, it would at least go in nine. That was the one that didn’t.”
The Cavs had a lot of shots that didn’t go in. Williams (13 points on 5-for-18 shooting, five rebounds, 10 assists) and Gibson (14 points on 4-for-16, eight rebounds, four assists) combined to go 9-for-34 from the field. They were a combined 1-for-10 in the fourth quarter, the one make being a 3-pointer that Williams banked in.
On the positive side for the Cavs, all five starters finished in double figures for the first time this season, as Jamison had 21 points and Parker had 10. On the negative side, their bench, which entered the night averaging a league-high 46.2 points, scored eight on 3-for-15 shooting.
Cleveland made a season-high 10 3-pointers, but it jacked up 30, with Jamison, Williams and Gibson all going 2-for-7.
“I can’t ask for a whole lot more,” Scott said. “I thought our guys competed their butts off.”
The Cavs outscored the Bulls 33-19 in the third period — Cleveland had 50 points over the first, second and fourth quarters — to take a 68-60 lead, but Kyle Korver scored Chicago’s first 12 points of the final period to keep the Bulls in the game.
Cleveland still led 80-74 after Varejao split a pair of free throws with 3:01 to play, but horrible offensive possessions ended up costing it the game.
The Cavs, who haven’t lost seven straight since March 29-April 9, 2004, did take solace in the way they showed up and competed.
“When you’re going through something like we’re going through right now, you have to take the right steps to get it back on track,” Gibson said. “Tonight we did that.”
- There were about 6,000 fans in attendance at tipoff, but the arena was half-full by the start of the third period. Fans who did not make it to The Q can call (800) 820-CAVS or e-mail email@example.com for details on how to exchange their ticket for one to a future game.
- A number of Cavs players didn’t get to the arena until 30-40 minutes prior to tipoff. Scott was sympathetic about the weather-related circumstances, but said they would still be fined.
- Varejao, who earlier went 10-for-10 in a game against Philadelphia, is the first NBA player to make at least seven shots without a miss in two games in the same season since Marc Gasol did it for Memphis in 2009. Two other Cavs, Tyrone Hill and Luther Rackley, have accomplished the feat.
- The Cavs’ lineup changes didn’t pay immediate dividends. Chicago started the game on a 10-0 run.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.