James' Jumpers Quiet Bulls' Bench
He made them all game, but he especially made them in the fourth quarter when he scored 15 points -- including 11 in a row when the outcome was in doubt.
First came a 25-foot three over Joakim Noah that still had Noah shaking his head in wonder well after the game had ended.
Then came a driving layup when he went by Luol Deng and up and under Noah.
Next came a 19-footer.
Then a 20-footer.
There was no doubt on any of the shots.
LeBron James was feeling it -- and because he felt it the Cleveland Cavaliers head to Chicago with a 2-0 series lead. Because of James' shooting -- a facet of the game he has worked hard to improve -- the Cavs won a game the Bulls easily could have stolen, 112-102.
James made nine jump shots in the game. Those shots kept the Cavs in the game in the first half; they won the game in the second.
"You just feel like every shot you put up is going in, no matter the difficulty or whatever the case," James said. "There's nobody that can guard you at that point in time. All you have to do is get to that spot you want to get to."
"Crazy shots," Chicago's Derrick Rose said. "It makes you want to be in his shoes the kind of stuff he's hitting."
Each one seemed personal too. Because after each made jumper in front of the Bulls bench -- and there were seven -- James turned and glared at the Bulls reserves as he backpedaled down the court. A few words were shared, but mainly a glare.
"They were talking the whole game," James said. "Every time I caught the ball over there, they were daring me to shoot the ball. Telling me I couldn't shoot, or 'You can't make jump shots so take the shot.' So that's what I did."
It's not the first time James has responded to negative chatter from the sidelines. He has taken comments from fans personally in several places -- most notably Golden State, Sacramento and Toronto. Earlier this season in a game against Chicago, James took more bench chatter from the Bulls personally in a Cleveland win.
He does not ignore it.
"They asked me to shoot a jumper and I did that," James said. "Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again."
These shots did not result from a lot of motion or picks or back-screens.
"We didn't do anything tricky," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "We came down and threw him the ball and he made shots in crunch minutes."
"That's what great players do," Bulls coach VInny Del Negro said.
Because of James and Jamario Moon -- 4-of-5 threes -- a fine Bulls effort went for naught. And the Bulls played very well. Noah had 25 points and 13 rebounds, Luol Deng 20 and six. The Bulls had 25 assists and 28 baskets in the paint. Those 56 points at or near the rim were more than impressive against a team that prides itself on its interior defense.
But James' 40 trumped it all. James' 40 trumped Chicago in a game when the Bulls took 22 more shots than the Cavs, and had just four turnovers.
"It was just one of those nights," Rose said.
The Bulls could have left Cleveland defeated, but they seemed more defiant. When Noah left his postgame news conference he crossed paths with Moon and quipped that he'd see if Moon's shot would fall in Chicago. At the news conference, Noah said: "I don't think we're discouraged right now. I think if anything we're motivated and think we can win, especially on our home court."
"If anything," Rose said of James, "we would rather have him hit those shots than drive to the hole and get other people open. So you live with it and they won."
As he always does, James rested the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. But when Brown told James to return with 8:34 left, J.J. Hickson jumped off the bench and reached over to James and tapped his fingers on his arm. The signal? It was time for "the closer" to enter the game.
"Those guys started it," James said with a smile. "I got to finish it."