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Bulls smacked around by LeBron, Cavs in Game 2

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Bulls smacked around by LeBron, Cavs in Game 2

The Bulls claimed not to be satisfied with just stealing a series opening win, pledging to take seriously an opportunity to put the Cleveland Cavaliers in a big hole before heading to Chicago for the weekend.

But they couldn't manufacture the desperation that came with knowing their season would likely be over with a loss, as was the likelihood of another Cavaliers loss. So LeBron James atoned for his self-described “bad game” and turned in a vintage performance on the way to a series-tying 106-91 win at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday.

Just as one could tell the Bulls had bad intentions stepping into the ring Monday night, the Cavaliers had the same thoughts, illustrated by their leader powering them to a 13-2 lead in the first few minutes.

“I knew we were in trouble, as soon as they jumped out, I just had a bad feeling,” said Bulls reserve Taj Gibson. “I just hoped we wouldn’t lose too much of a lead. Every quarter we kept chopping it down, chopping it down but wearing out our energy.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler to be named NBA's Most Improved Player]

If one wasn’t sure about James’ energy, his devastating drive and dunk over Jimmy Butler in the second quarter put everyone on notice, finishing with 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists, although it took 29 shots to get there, if there’s a silver lining for Bulls fans.

“You win one game, it doesn’t mean you win the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You feel too good about yourselves, you’re gonna get knocked on your butt. And that’s what happened.”

Just as the Bulls led wire-to-wire in Game 1, they trailed all game Wednesday, shooting 33 percent in the first quarter while allowing the Cavs to shoot 65 percent.

“The story of the game was the first quarter,” Thibodeau said. “They smashed us. And we gotta respond a lot better.”

The Bulls’ slight glimmer of hope came in the third, a 14-0 run, with Derrick Rose scoring or assisting on every Bulls basket when Iman Shumpert left for the locker room with a left groin injury and the Cavs comfortably ahead by 25.

Shumpert has come to emerge as a vital cog in the Cavs’ machine, hitting four triples for the second straight game and scoring 15 in 29 minutes. As for Rose, the Bulls point guard couldn’t get to the free-throw line for the third straight game, the first time in his career such an occurrence has happened.

Thibodeau was clearly less than pleased about Rose not getting to the line while his counterpart Kyrie Irving has gone 21 times in two games, but doesn’t want to hear from the league office about a fine for criticizing the officials, so his long wry stare was followed by a sarcastic statement when it was brought to his attention afterwards.

“I guess he’s gotta go harder, I don’t know,” Thibodeau said. “It looks like there’s a lot of contact to me, I don’t know. Obviously others don’t see it that way.”

And even though Irving dropped in a quiet 21, James set the tone early, forcing the Bulls’ defense to put so much attention on him it freed up his teammates for 12 triples, including 9-15 in the first half after the Bulls held them to 27 percent shooting from that range in Game 1.

James had to check himself out of the game in the first five minutes because he expended so much energy trying to get his teammates going. Had that trend continued, the Bulls could’ve been in a good spot, going down the stretch against a tired Cavs leader.

“We gotta come out with a lot more energy,” Gibson said. “We came out a little lax. It’s hard to get the same looks when you have guys into you. They were just running at us every time. We just gotta make adjustments.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Bulls fans!]

But unfortunately for the Bulls, James’ teammates followed his lead. Tristan Thompson, who started at power forward in place of Mike Miller, was a nightmare of activity on the offensive glass.

Thompson ran around, threw down and jumped over Pau Gasol, for six offensive rebounds, negating the Bulls’ relative effectiveness with their initial defense after a blistering Cavaliers start.

James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova combined for six three-pointers, while Kendrick Perkins added agitation and irritation to Gasol, who had a miserable night.

The Bulls’ bigs activity left a lot to be desired, as Gasol, Joakim Noah and even Gibson (5-5 shooting) couldn’t do much on the glass.

More than anything, the Bulls appeared a step slow and plenty satisfied, with no counter for the Cavs’ desperation. Rose and Butler battled frustration and ineffectiveness all game, without getting much help from the other weapons. Butler scored 18 while Rose added 14 but took 20 shots with 10 assists and seven rebounds.

If Game 1 was a clear shot across the bow to the Cavaliers, they returned it in kind in a game they needed to win—and likely, giving the Bulls a whipping that will instill a little doubt before the scene shifts.

Round 2 to Cleveland.

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley's path to the NBA was an intriguing one, a true story of perseverance featuring many twists and turns. For those who haven't closely followed Beverley's career, the Chicago native and current Los Angeles Clipper had a three-year career overseas before he really caught on in the NBA, landing a multi-year deal with the Houston Rockets in 2013. Before landing with the Rockets, Beverley played for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine), Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece), Spartak St. Petersburg (Russia) before landing in Houston but a lesser-known fact is that Beverley actually spent time practicing with the Bulls within the first two years of his overseas basketball career. 

On Saturday's episode of "The Woj Pod" hosted by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Beverley discussed the importance of glue guys, Kris Dunn's season and much more. One of the more interesting tidbits was the aforementioned workouts with the Bulls. Beverley responded to a Woj question about if he could've played with the Bulls had things went differently earlier in his career:

I worked in the summertime with the Bulls, I don't know, two-three years in a row, Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense...

Beverley elicited laughter from the crowd but he is clearly (and some would say rightfully) still upset by those who didn't give him an opportunity along the way. He went on to say that there is a "dynamic that fans don't know" and "can only assume." In the interview, Beverley didn't give a specific year but he says "two-three years" and clearly states that Vinny Del Negro was the head coach, meaning that he likely scrimmaged with the Bulls at points during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

When you take a closer look at those rosters, the possible matchups Beverley had become incredibly interesting to think about. The 2009 Bulls had nine players scoring in double figures — and a 10th scoring 9.9 points per game in Kirk Hinrich — and the 2010 Bulls had six players scoring in double figures.

Beverley could've had matchups against Larry Hughes (12,0 PPG in '09), John Salmons (career-high 18.3 PPG in '09), Ben Gordon (20.7 PPG in '09), or even Derrick Rose (18.7 PPG from 2008-10). Out of that group, Gordon and Rose specifically, can make any defender look bad on their best day, so maybe Del Negro's mistake wasn't as egregious as it appears now. Either way, Beverley certainly hasn't forgotten the ordeal. 

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Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Ask anyone from Chicago around All-Star weekend, and you'll quickly learn the city breeds tough, gritty and relentless basketball.

Apparently, it also breeds controversial dunk contests.

Thirty-two years after Michael Jordan bested Dominique Wilkins in a contest at the Old Chicago Stadium that many agree saw a healthy heaping of home-cooking on the menu, Derrick Jones Jr. topped Aaron Gordon in an affair that sent shockwaves through the NBA universe. Here's the rundown:

Highlights from regulation

There was a special feeling about this one from the very beginning.

Perhaps white men can jump:

 

 

Dwight busted out the cape (again) — and tributed Kobe along the way:

 

Aaron Gordon at one point rattled off five 50s in a row:

 

The finish

In the end, it all came down to Gordon and Jones, who duked out a dunk-off that featured some absolute haymakers:

 

It was raucous fun, truly. But the controversy came at the finish. Jones' final dunk was an attempted reprisal of Julius Erving's famous free-throw line dunk (re-popularized by Jordan, partly in that aforementioned '88 contest), which registered a 48. Gordon then pulled out the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall for an improvised leapfrog that nearly tore the roof down.

 

"It was a great decision for him to do that. Everybody knows Tacko's a fan favorite," Jones said. "I knew it was going to get the crowd hyped."

"He (Fall) was a little bit nervous. He was like 'I got faith in you.' I was like, 'I appreciate it,'" Gordon said.

That dunk, though, garnered only a 47 from the judges. Game, set, match: Jones. Boos cascaded from the rafters.

The reaction

That sentiment carried over into the postgame presser.

"What are we doing here?" Gordon bemoaned to assorted media before even taking his seat at the podium. "Jumping over somebody 7-foot-5 and dunking is no easy feat. What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?"

All fair questions. All fair points.

"I don't even know who gave me the 9s. I'm going to find them," he added with a laugh. "Trust me, I'm going to find them tonight.

Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen and Chadwick Boseman... Look out.

Gordon did give Jones his due, calling him a "leaper" and "great dunker." Still, this appears to be the final contest of Gordon's career.

"It's a wrap, bro. It's a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies," Gordon said, alluding to his defeat at the hands of Zach LaVine in 2016. "My next goal is going to be trying to win the 3-point contest."

Jones, meanwhile, contested the premise that Gordon was robbed at all.

"When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school and I know that's 50-worthy. There's no way I should have got a 48," Jones said. "He clipped Tacko's head when he did that dunk, so I knew they couldn't have gave him a 50 for that one. I would have respected it if they gave him another 48, so we can go again."

In that event, Jones said he would have been ready.

"I just turned 23, I got legs for days," Jones said. Jones' birthday was the night of the contest, and he said he had dunks planned for as long as the judges allowed them to.

And though Jones hasn't yet thought about where this dunk contest ranks in the history of ones before, he's ready for the next challenge.

"Whoever want to step out there. I don't know. I'm not naming no names. I don't want to call nobody out, but whoever want to step out in front of me, I'm there. I'm not going to shy away from nobody."

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