CLEVELAND — The Chicago Bulls were without Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich due to injury.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bob Love, Chet “The Jet” Walker, Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan retired long ago.
Even Luol Deng is no longer with the Bulls, having been dealt to the Cavaliers on Jan. 6.
None of that mattered Wednesday.
Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls came into Quicken Loans Arena and taught the Cavs a lesson in mental and physical toughness before exiting with a hard-earned 98-87 victory in their first meeting against former teammate Deng.
“Easy to sum up,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “Chicago just out-toughed us.”
Kyrie Irving had 26 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Cavs and Dion Waiters scored 13 of his 15 points in the final period, but no one else had more than 11 points for Cleveland, which shot a dismal .375 from the field (33-for-88).
“It was a tough night for every single guy on our roster,” Brown said.
In losing their second straight at home, the Cavs (15-27) saw Deng go 2-for-11 from the field, Tristan Thompson finish 3-for-14, C.J. Miles go 3-for-9 and Jarrett Jack go 0-for-4.
“I’ve never done something like that before,” Deng said of playing against his former teammates. “It was strange. It’s the Cavs vs. the Bulls. It’s not so much about me. We could have played better.”
Given their injury situation — Hinrich (hamstring) and Boozer (calf) both got hurt Monday — the Bulls played about as well as they could have hoped for.
D.J. Augustin, starting in place of Hinrich, tied his season high with 27 points and added five rebounds and seven assists for Chicago (21-20), which won for the ninth time in its last 11 games.
“He played a great game tonight,” Irving said.
Taj Gibson, starting in place of Boozer, tied his career high with 26 points and made 11-of-15 shots, almost all of them unguarded mid-range jumpers.
Mike Dunleavy, now starting in place of Deng, who finished with 11 points for the Cavs, poured in 22 points while making 4-of-5 3-pointers.
Joakim Noah did his part as well with nine points, 18 rebounds and six assists as the normally offensively challenged Bulls shot .529 from the field (37-for-70), including an incredible .645 in the second half (20-for-31).
“They just handed us our lunch,” Brown said. “We didn’t respond well. That’s what’s disappointing.”
Irving scored Cleveland’s last 15 points of the first half, all on 3-pointers, to help the Cavs take a 44-43 lead at intermission. The point guard was 5-for-6 from long range in the first half and 1-for-5 from inside the arc.
“We show spurts here and there,” Irving said. “We look really good. Other times, we look discombobulated.”
Cleveland immediately fell behind 7-0 and trailed by as many as 10 in the second quarter, but Irving hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to put the Cavs up 38-35.
The Cavs also started poorly in the third period, getting outscored 6-0 in the first 1:59 and forcing Brown to call timeout. Chicago led by as many as 11 in the quarter and went up 12 when Dunleavy hit a three 32 seconds into the fourth, but the Cavs were only down three, 79-76, midway through the final period.
Cleveland never got closer, as Augustin made one big play after another down the stretch and Dunleavy hit a dagger three to put Chicago up nine with 38.1 seconds to go.
“We’ve got guys that are going to have a great career in the NBA, can play,” Deng said after the Cavs fell to 3-4 since acquiring him. “But we’ve got to get together and do it as a team.
“A lot of times out there, especially tonight, there’s a lot of individual effort. We’ve got to change that mindset into doing it together. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use all our talent within the team, and I think we can.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.