CLEVELAND — The end result was the same, but at least the Cavaliers made a game of it this time around.
On the verge of getting blown out early once again, the Cavs got back within five points late in the third period and were still within nine midway through the fourth before falling 95-85 to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Cleveland (4-15) has now dropped 10 straight games to Chicago (9-8), but at least it played better than it had in the previous four meetings, which the Cavs lost by an average of 30.3 points. The most recent was a 115-86 debacle on Nov. 2.
When the Cavs fell behind 27-11 after the first period and by 18 late in the second quarter, it looked like this one was going to be another laugher, but Cleveland got back within 10 at intermission and made the Bulls work for most of the second half.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “They’re battling. They’re playing as hard as they can right now.”
Though his shooting was putrid (4-for-16), Anderson Varejao was a monster once again for the Cavs, finishing with 11 points and 15 rebounds. It was his 10th straight double-double and his club-record 10th straight game with at least 15 boards.
On this night, Bulls center Joakim Noah was every bit Varejao’s equal in a battle of mop-topped centers. Noah finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Both teams were without their normal starting backcourts — Kyrie Irving (finger) and Dion Waiters (ankle) for Cleveland; Derrick Rose (knee) and Richard Hamilton (foot) for Chicago — but the Bulls are a much better and deeper team.
“We’ve got to play a (darn) near perfect game on both ends of the floor,” Scott said. “The effort has been great. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Shooting guard Marco Belinelli led Chicago with 23 points, while small forward Luol Deng had 22 points and power forward Carlos Boozer had 10 points, 12 boards and four assists. Point guard Kirk Hinrich had 11 points and eight assists.
The Cavs had six players score in double figures, but no one had more than 14 points, which was the total put up by reserve point guard Donald Sloan, who helped make up for starter Jeremy Pargo’s 3-for-12 shooting.
Fellow reserves Tyler Zeller (4-for-12) and C.J. Miles had 10 points apiece, while Tristan Thompson had 11 and Daniel Gibson, who started at shooting guard, had 10 to go along with no rebounds and one assist.
Cleveland shot just 36.5 percent from the field (31-for-85) against the third-ranked defensive team in the NBA, which is extremely well coached by Tom Thibodeau.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Scott said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in this league and have been for the last three years.”
After getting as close as five with 1:51 left in the third, the Cavs looked like they were done when they fell behind by 17 in the fourth.
But sparked by a tip-in and steal and dunk by Varejao, Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to make it 83-74 with 6:43 to go.
The Cavs had two chances to score on their next possession, but Pargo badly missed a three and a turnover followed.
Noah then faked a handoff at the top of the key and spun to the basket for a layup to halt the Cavs’ momentum. Cleveland failed to score on its next possession as well and Deng converted a three-point play, marking the beginning of the end for the Cavs.
“We had a chance,” said Zeller, who was 4-for-12 from the field. “I don’t know if we ran out of gas at the end or just didn’t make enough plays.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.