James struggles, Cavaliers still advance past Bulls 94-73
CHICAGO — Cleveland displayed its depth of talent in the absence of strong performances by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, beating Chicago 94-73 on Thursday to win the series 4-2 and progress to the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
In the day’s other game, Houston came from 19 points down to stun the Los Angeles Clippers on their home court and square that series at 3-3.
Cleveland’s James struggled to score 15 points while Irving limped off the court in the first half, but Matthew Dellavedova (19 points) and Tristan Thompson (13 points and 17 rebounds) picked up the slack to guide the Cavaliers to the final four of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Cleveland is right where it expected to be after James decided to come home from Miami and return to his first team. The Cavaliers didn’t expect to get there like this though, with Kevin Love suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the opening round and Irving playing through leg injuries.
“These guys work their tails off every single day when you guys are not around,” James said of the lesser-known players who stepped up. “I’m a little bit surprised because of how we’ve handled the postseason so far. These are first-timers right here (Dellavedova and Thompson) as well as Kyrie and Kev before the injury. They want to be good, they want to be great, and every single day they prepare the right way.”
Irving scored six points in 12 minutes before twisting his left knee when he came down on Thompson’s foot early in the second quarter. The score was 35-35 and he did not return.
James had 11 assists and nine rebounds but hardly looked like the superhuman that carried Cleveland in Game 5. He shot 7 of 23 from the field and missed all four 3-point attempts in this game. But the Cavaliers had more than enough to get by, setting up a meeting with Atlanta or Washington.
It is James’ fifth straight conference finals, the previous four with Miami.
“I do everything for my team, do everything for my teammates,” James said. “I want these guys to be able to feel this moment. That’s what I came back here for. I’ve got four guys that never made the postseason that played a huge role on this team.”
Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 20 points and Derrick Rose finished with 14. Pau Gasol scored all of his eight points in the first quarter after missing the previous two games with a strained left hamstring, and the Bulls simply got overmatched in what could be their final game under coach Tom Thibodeau.
There is heavy speculation that he could be out because of friction with management despite leading Chicago to playoff appearances in each of his five seasons.
“Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” he said. “That’s the way I’m going to approach it.”
Iman Shumpert scored 13 points for Cleveland. Dellavedova, James Jones and J.R. Smith (12 points) all hit three 3-pointers and combined to score 40 points.
Houston pulled off a stunning comeback to win 119-107 at the Clippers, thanks chiefly to Corey Brewer scoring 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
James Harden, who played less than a minute in the fourth quarter, scored 23 points — making all 11 of his free throws — and Dwight Howard added 20 points and 21 rebounds for the Rockets, who will host Game 7 on Sunday.
The Clippers were cruising with a 19-point lead in the third quarter, seemingly assured of earning the franchise’s first berth in the Western Conference finals, but the Rockets scored nine straight to cut it to 13 heading into the fourth.
Houston hit seven 3-pointers in the fourth and stymied the Clippers offensively. Blake Griffin, who finished with 28 points, didn’t score in the final quarter.
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