CLEVELAND (AP) — Derrick Rose scored 25 points and Pau Gasol added 21, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 99-92 victory over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.
Looking like the MVP he was before being slowed by knee injuries, Rose helped the Bulls swipe home-court advantage from the Cavs, who were missing starters Kevin Love and J.R. Smith.
Jimmy Butler added 20 points and banked in a contested jumper with 30 seconds left as the Bulls closed it out.
Kyrie Irving scored 30 points and LeBron James added 19 and 15 rebounds for Cleveland, playing its first game since Love — one of the Cavs’ Big 3 — was lost for the remainder of the postseason with a shoulder injury.
Game 2 is Wednesday night.
The Cavs only trailed by four points in the final minutes, but they forced several 3-point attempts and James missed a tough layup with 51 seconds left.
Finally fully healed after dealing with injuries all season, the Bulls are peaking at the perfect time. Coming off a 54-point win over Milwaukee to wrap up its opening-round series, Chicago took control from the start, withstood a Cleveland comeback and buckled down on defense in the closing minutes to hand Cleveland just its second loss in 24 home games.
Rose ran the show the way he used to before surgeries threatened his career, and Gasol, the steady 34-year-old Spaniard, made the Cavs pay for leaving him open by knocking down one mid-range jumper after another.
Gasol added 10 rebounds and Mike Dunleavy had 14 points — 13 in the first quarter when the Bulls burst to a 14-point lead.
The Cavs struggled from the start to find any offensive rhythm. Without Love to space the floor, Chicago had an easier time defending James and without Smith, who was suspended two games for striking Boston’s Jae Crowder in the face, the Cavs were lacking one of their best perimeter shooters.
Iman Shumpert did all he could, making four 3-pointers and scoring 22 points, but Cavs coach David Blatt spent the night unsuccessfully searching for the right combinations.
The Bulls have a healthy Rose, and that might be enough.
After the Cavs battled back from a 16-point deficit to tie it at 51-all, the Bulls took off, going on a 15-0 run highlighted by Rose’s jumper that was a snapshot of him before his knee injuries.
With James guarding him on the perimeter, Rose created some space with a dribble and then hit a step-back, off-balance 3-pointer to give Chicago a 61-53 lead. The Bulls weren’t done as Butler scored on a dunk, Gasol converted a three-point play and then knocked down another short jumper.
Consecutive 3s by Matthew Dellavedova and Shumpert pulled Cleveland within eight, but Aaron Brooks hit a 3 and Gasol stuck a 15-footer to put the Bulls ahead 81-70 entering the fourth.
Bulls: Instead of sitting on the bench, Rose rode a stationary bike in the hallway leading to Chicago’s locker room to stay loose when he wasn’t in the game. … Coach Tom Thibodeau and James have crossed paths many times in the postseason, first when he was an assistant with Boston and now in Chicago. “It seems like we’ve been around each other in playoff games a lot,” Thibodeau said. “I have great respect for him. I’ve watched how he’s evolved and the way he approaches things.”… The Bulls are 62-61 in conference semifinal games.
Cavaliers: James (1,054) moved past Scott Pippen (1,048) on the career postseason assist list. The only “true” front-line player ahead of James is Larry Bird (1,062), who is fourth. Magic Johnson (2,346) is No. 1. … The Cavs were just 7 of 26 from 3-point range.
NOAH, NO POINTS
Chicago’s Joakim Noah didn’t score in 29 minutes but had nine rebounds and drew boos from Cleveland’s crowd every time he touched the ball.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Cleveland.
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