Wednesday's roundup: James leads as Cavs even series
Cleveland — The headband returned. The aggressiveness, dunks and dazzling plays all came back, too.
LeBron James rarely has two sub-par games in a row, especially in the playoffs.
James attacked from the start and scored 33 points, Kyrie Irving added 21 and the Cleveland Cavaliers evened their semifinal series with Chicago, beating the Bulls, 106-91, in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Donning his signature headband for the first time in two months and powering to the basket, James kept the Cavaliers from falling into a 2-0 hole. He added eight rebounds and five assists for Cleveland, which led by 25 in the third quarter and withstood a third-quarter charge by the Bulls.
For the second straight game, the Cavs were without forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension). But they had James and he was more like himself after a sub-par performance in the opener.
"We're a little banged up, we're short-handed, so I have to be aggressive," James said. "Even more aggressive than my usual self, and I was happy I was able to make a couple of plays to help our team win tonight."
Jimmy Butler scored 18 and Derrick Rose had 14 points and 10 assists for the Bulls, who host Game 3 on Friday night. Pau Gasol added 11 points — 10 fewer than Game 1, when he destroyed the Cavs on uncontested jumpers.
Iman Shumpert added 15 points, James Jones made five 3-pointers and Tristan Thompson added 12 rebounds for Cleveland. Thompson started at power forward in Love's spot, allowing James to move back to his usual role at small forward. On the perimeter is where James is most dangerous and he made it clear from the outset that he wasn't going to stand around and wait for the game to come to him.
Cleveland burst to a 13-2 lead and led by 22 in the first quarter.
"They smashed us," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls used a 14-0 run to get within 11 in the third quarter, but Jones hit consecutive 3s and James scored twice near the basket to put Cleveland up by 16 going into the fourth.
James arrived at Quicken Loans Arena at around 4 p.m., three hours before tip-off. As if there needed to be another sign of the game's importance to Cleveland this was it, as the superstar typically gets to the arena for a home game around 90 minutes before the start.
"Maybe he wanted to beat the traffic," quipped Cavs coach David Blatt. "Knowing him, it was something else."
It sure was.
Back in his familiar headband after ditching it since March 7, and with an all-business look from the time he took the floor for warm-ups, James came out as aggressively as he promised.
He scored 14 points in the first quarter and got to the free-throw line five times, three more than in Monday's 99-92 loss. James, who went just 9-of-22 from the field in Game 1, set the tone and his teammates followed.
"That's what a leader of the team is supposed to do," Rose said. "Everybody on the team followed right behind him."
(At) Houston 115, L.A. Clippers 109: James Harden scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Rockets over the Clippers and even their Western Conference semifinal at one game apiece.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who bounced back from a 117-101 loss in the opener. Game 3 is Friday night in Los Angeles.
Trevor Ariza added 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 34 points, but had just eight after halftime as Houston keyed on him with All-Star point guard Chris Paul out with a hamstring injury.
Coach Doc Rivers said before the game that Paul is getting better but still isn't "moving well." Rivers isn't sure if Paul will be ready for Game 3 but expects him to play at some point in this series.