CLEVELAND —He made a double-pump, left-handed scoop shot. He made a jumper after holding the ball seemingly forever. Then he made a ridiculous fadeaway from almost the same spot with Kirk Hinrich draped all over him.
It was vintage LeBron James, and it resulted in a 112-102 Cavaliers victory Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 2 of a best-of-seven playoff series with the Chicago Bulls.
Cleveland leads the first-round series 2-0, with Game 3 to be played in Chicago on Thursday night.
“It’s all or nothing for us,” said James, who put up 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in another epic playoff 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.”
The Bulls got a monster effort from center Joakim Noah, who scored a playoff career-high 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds a day after blasting the city of Cleveland.
“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 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 2-of-4 3-pointers, and all six of his free throws in 41 minutes of action.
“The first game I was very hesitant,” said James, who had 24 points in Game 1. “They were giving me the jumper.”
This time, James took it. He scored 15 points in the final 7:56, including that three-possession sequence of left-handed scoop shot-jumper-jumper that erased all hope for Chicago.
“I watched a lot of film,” James said. “I knew when I caught it they would back up and I’d have an opportunity to shoot it. I just had to take it.”
James wasn’t just a taker, he was a maker, but he also 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.
Antawn Jamison added 14 points for Cleveland, while Mo Williams, who was just 2-of-8 from the field, had 12 points and six assists.
The Cavaliers finished 10-of-20 from 3-point territory and shot a sizzling .563 from the field overall (40-of-71). They also made 22-of-24 free throws (.917), a category they finished dead last in during the regular season.
Cleveland center Shaquille O’Neal had eight points and seven rebounds in just 15 minutes of action and Williams didn’t hit his first shot until the 4:36 mark of the third period, but James came to the rescue again and again, especially down the stretch.
“That’s what the great players do,” Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said.
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 very well.
They led by as many as four in the second half, but James’ heroics and Moon’s perfect 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter 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 a sizzling .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.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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