CLEVELAND – For three quarters Monday night, the heavily-favored Cavaliers looked human.
In the fourth quarter, LeBron James did not.
James' jaw-dropping dominance over the final eight minutes -- spurred on by some voices on the Bulls' bench asking him to shoot -- included 15 crucial points, a handful of ill-advised jumpers that still went in and even one occasion where James forced a bad pass into traffic, ended up securing the loose ball himself and laid it in with two befuddled Bulls defenders looking at one another.
It ended with a 2-0 series lead -- and reason to wonder what those talkers on the Bulls' bench were thinking.
"Every time I caught the ball over there (by the Bulls' bench), they were daring me to shoot, telling me that I couldn't shoot or 'You can't make jump shots, so take the shot,'" James said. "So that's what I did. They asked me to shoot jumpers and I did that -- over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
"I continued to make them."
After almost all of them, he glared at the Bulls' bench.
James finished with 40 points, and his late-game heroics left the Bulls wondering what they could have done differently. The Bulls mixed their defenses, thought they were doing the right thing in keeping James (mostly) away from the rim and were willing to take their chances with him 20 or so feet from the basket.
"We played well enough to steal a game," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "LeBron just took over."
James' left-wing 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Joakim Noah with 4:20 to go turned what had been a tied game heading to the fourth quarter into a six-point Cavaliers' lead, and the Bulls would get no closer. He scored the next eight Cavs' points as well as the lead grew to double digits. Even better than the aforementioned 3-pointer (or his first-quarter poster dunk after driving past rookie James Johnson) was a fading, off-the-dribble 20-footer over Kirk Hinrich with 1:36 left that beat the shot clock and essentially ended any hopes of a late Bulls' comeback.
"He hit some unbelievable shots when his team needed it most," Noah said.
"You just feel like every shot you put up is going in," James said.
James also grabbed 8 rebounds, had 8 assists and blocked 2 shots. He didn't do it alone -- clutch shots by Jamario Moon helped on a night when the Cavaliers went small and let the Bulls dictate the tempo for much of the game -- but James' late-game takeover was reminiscent of what another guy wearing No. 23 used to do for the Bulls against the Cavaliers.
"Just crazy shots," Derrick Rose said.
"Those are the shots you want him to take," said Luol Deng, who spent most of the night trying to keep pace with James. Knowing one person is rarely up for that task, Del Negro called for a mixture of defenses that saw the Bulls "single cover him and (try) to force him baseline a little bit. Then we came with the double team a couple times."
None of it worked.
There is still some intrigue as the teams head back to Chicago for the next two games, starting Thursday night. Noah had 25 points and 13 rebounds Monday night, and Rose's quickness presents the Cavaliers matchup problems. Maybe home-court advantage will help the Bulls play at their tempo, but the Bulls played much better in Game 2 than they had in Game 1 and might have played as well as they possibly could.
The top-seeded Cavaliers aren't across the board better than the Bulls. James is just better than everybody.
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