Bulls 91, Cavs 106 (Series tied 1-1)

LeBron James came out in attack mode to begin Game 2 and his teammates followed suit. The Cleveland Cavaliers built a 13-2 lead from the jump and never trailed the Chicago Bulls on their way to a 106-91 victory. James totaled 22 points in the first half before finishing with 33 to go along with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. His aggressive mindset proved to be both contagious and the difference in securing the win to even the series at 1-1.

“Sometimes the game presents different challenges,” James said postgame. “I knew from my guys today they wanted me to be ultra-aggressive from the start to the finish. So I just tried to respond the best way I knew how to help our team win a ball game. Be aggressive throughout the whole game, and just try to make a few plays to help us get this win. We needed it, our backs were against the wall, we couldn’t get down two games on our home floor. We played a great game and I was just happy to be a part of it.”

Alongside James, Kyrie Irving chipped in 21 points on an uber-efficient nine shots from the field. After hurting the Cavaliers with a steady diet of 18-foot jump shots in Game 1, Cleveland adjusted their pick-and-roll defense and inserted Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup to help hold Pau Gasol scoreless until the two-minute mark of the first half. Gasol finished with 11 points, Derrick Rose added 14 and Jimmy Butler paced Chicago with 18.

“I just thought we came a lot more ready,” Coach David Blatt said postgame. “We had to be in the moment from the jump ball. We had to be engaged, we had to have a great defensive mindset, and we had to set the tone for ourselves more than anything else, and I thought we did that. Tristan, as always, contributed in his way, in the areas of the game he’s good at without stepping outside of himself and he played a very important part in the victory.”

Thompson responded to the start in Game 2 by collecting 12 rebounds with six coming on the offensive glass. Iman Shumpert buried four three’s in the first half before finishing with 15 points, and James Jones came off the Cavaliers bench to throw in five triples on his way to 17. The series now shifts to Chicago on Friday.

Brendan Bowers

Clippers 109, Rockets 115 (Series tied 1-1)

Trailing my double-digits in the second half with multiple players in foul trouble, the Houston Rockets seemed to be danger of finding themselves in a 0-2 hole going back to Los Angeles. Then, the chants of “MVP” started to grow louder and louder.

James Harden (32 points, 7 assists, 7 turnovers, 15-15 on free throws, +14) poured in half of his 32 points in the final 10:46 of Game 2, slicing his way into the paint and onto the free throw line. As much as he struggled in practically all of Game 1, he thrived down the stretch as no one of the Clippers seemed to be able to check the MVP runner up.

He may still be unable to knock down a free throw, but Dwight Howard (24 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks) continues to look like Orlando Dwight Howard. He is energetic, strong, athletic and imposing himself in the interior. To make matters worse for L.A., DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 25 minutes) picked up two fouls a couple minutes into the game, allowing D12 to receive and finish off multiple alley-oops with authority. The Rockets big man had 10 points in the first eight minutes.

The Paul-less Clippers looked like they might be putting the Rockets away for good in the second quarter when Blake Griffin (34 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 13-23 from the field) came alive. Los Angeles torched Houston for 41 points in the second while the Rockets only put up 21 points of their own. Griffin already had 26 points by halftime as he seemed to be making everything from midrange and out of the post. However, the narrative changed in the second half when Trevor Ariza (15 points, 13 rebounds) took on the challenge of guarding the bigger opponent. He really did an effective job, limiting Griffin to just 2-9 shooting and three turnovers in the second half. Terrence Jones (10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Howard also started helping hard when Griffin collected a pass or started to drive into the paint.

Without Griffin playing at an elite level or Paul on the floor, the Clippers seemed to lose their rhythm down the stretch. During a period stretching from the end of the third to the start of the fourth, the Clippers used a 20-4 run to turn an 85-78 deficit into a nine-point lead. L.A. wouldn’t be able to recover, as they simply couldn’t make enough shots. After scoring 41 points in the second quarter, the team only managed to score 44 in the second half.

Aside from any individual performances, the Rockets simply became the aggressors in Game 2. This same time of attack was clearly evident in all four of Houston’s wins in the first round, as the Rockets made 42-64 (65.6 percent) free throws Wednesday night. The Clippers only made 25-32 (78.1 percent), which would be a decent night against a normal team. But with Harden uses his ball handling and footwork to get into the paint, it is almost impossible to guard with Howard looming on the weak side, just waiting for a lob. On top of Houston’s dominance at the line, they also controlled the boards, outrebounding L.A. 54-40 and snatching 15 offensive rebounds. Howard, Ariza, Jones and Josh Smith (8 points, 6 rebounds) combined to grab 43 rebounds—more than the entire Clippers team.

This game is getting extremely close to a playoff level in terms of chippiness and bickering. The bad blood started in the regular season when Matt Barnes (6 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 fouls) practically threw Harden to the ground and has remained hostile since then. Barnes received a technical foul in Wednesday’s game for bumping into Harden after he gave him a hard foul. Fully expect these two teams to only get chippier now that the series is moving to Los Angeles.

Jay Wallis