This could have been a night when the Bulls pointed to the difference Kirk Hinrich can make in facilitating the offense.
They dished out 33 assists as a team and shot 50 percent from the field against Cleveland on Tuesday. On the other end of the court, though, casual defense negated their efficient offense.
The Cavaliers played without all-star point guard Kyrie Irving because of a sore knee, but Cleveland had more than enough, as Tom Thibodeau likes to say, and knocked off the Bulls 101-98. The Cavs snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Bulls.
“We had spurts where we played, but I thought they played harder than us the whole game,” Luol Deng said. “We were bad defensively. Even when they missed, they got the offensive rebound and they got the loose balls. We were pretty bad today.”
This game was a virtual replay of the Feb. 11 skirmish with San Antonio, when the Spurs played without Tony Parker and Tim Duncan but used a band of unsung heroes to stick it to the Bulls.
This time rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters scored 25 points for the Cavs, while Irving’s replacement, Illinois native Shaun Livingston, added 15.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 27 points, while Deng scored 26. The Cavs have gone 10-7 since Jan. 16.
Cleveland never trailed in the fourth quarter, and the most telling stretch was back-to-back unimpeded drives to the basket by Waiters and fellow rookie Tyler Zeller, which put the Cavs in front 87-78 with 7:34 left.
The Bulls made a comeback and had a chance to tie in the final minute. But trailing 98-96, Deng’s 20-footer from the top of the key was off-target, and Cleveland (19-38) sealed the game at the foul line.
The winning push from the Cavs also included a key offensive rebound by Livingston, which led to a jumper from Luke Walton that made it 97-92 with 1:21 left. Cleveland finished with a 39-34 advantage on the boards.
“We can’t pick and choose and we can’t play one side of the ball,” Thibodeau said. “It can’t be the offense one night, then the defense the next night, then you play one quarter. In this league, everyone is capable of beating you.
“Until we get the level of intensity up and play with high energy on both ends of the floor, play for 48 minutes, the result’s not going to be good. You get what you deserve in this league, and we’re getting what we deserve right now.
“Until we change that, we’re going to have problems. We’re short-handed, and you’ve got to play with great intensity and you’ve got to do it for an entire game.”
The Bulls (32-25) have been playing without Derrick Rose all season, mostly with good results. Lately, though, they’ve started to lose other players to injury.
Hinrich missed 10 of the previous 11 games with an elbow infection, and now Taj Gibson could be out two weeks with a knee sprain. Keeping up that intensity becomes a taller order.
“When you’re down a player, you have to do it collectively; you have to play hard,” Thibodeau added. “And we were doing that for a long time. Now we’ve exhaled and the results are not going to be good. It’s not. So we have to correct that.”
Hinrich hit the floor several times Tuesday, despite the sore elbow. He said it was throbbing at times but still intact. Inside the locker room, he tried to explain what happened to the Bulls’ defense.
“I don’t know if it’s lack of trust or what,” he said. “It’s got to be five guys on that end or it’s not going to work. It’s just being consistent. It’s got to be both ends for us.
“It just feels like we’re not on a string right now. Our coverages aren’t as tight as they should be. It seems like sometimes there’s a hesitancy to help. You just can’t do that.”
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