Cleveland Cavaliers cap year with 103-102 win over Chicago Bulls

CHICAGO — The Cleveland Cavaliers ring in the New Year with a victory.

Hours before the ball dropped and the calendar flipped to 2023, the Cavs got the celebration started early, beating the surging Chicago Bulls, 103-102. The win snaps Cleveland’s three-game losing streak.

“Sometimes you just need a win,” Donovan Mitchell said after the game. “We fought. We competed. We scrapped. Caris LeVert fought his butt off. Kevin Love played his butt off. Everybody did their thing. Always great to get a win, especially when I’m not playing my best. I appreciate my guys lifting me up and helping me out and doing it as a group.”

The undermanned Cavaliers were without usual starters Darius Garland and Evan Mobley Saturday night. Garland missed the game because of a sprained right thumb that required round-the-clock treatment. Mobley is dealing with a sore right ankle. Those absences caused Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff to use his 17th different starting lineup.

After a competitive first quarter that featured 10 lead changes and three ties, the Cavs went on a 13-0 run near the start of the second quarter to take control and push their lead to double digits for the first time. At various points throughout, the Cavs looked like they were going to cruise to a win. They were up by a game-high 14 points in the second half. Led by seven going into the fourth quarter. Never trailed in the second half. We were ahead for the final 33-plus minutes. Up by eight around the six-minute mark.

But rarely has it been easy this season. Especially on the road.

Cleveland’s offense malfunctioned in the final minutes. Turnovers. Stagnation. Late-clock attacks. Poor shot selection. The Cavs scored one basket in the final 4:54, as the game tightened, and the New Year’s Eve crowd came alive. Chicago closed the gap to one in the final 30 seconds following DeMar DeRozan’s driving layup.

Cleveland’s ensuing possession was hideous. It ended with a shot-clock violation. So, with 5.1 seconds remaining, the Bulls had a chance to steal an improbable win — and deliver the Cavs one final gut-wrenching loss in 2022.

Everyone knew where the ball was going. The Cavs, with the league’s best defense, talked about it in the timeout huddle. But DeRozan missed a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer and the Cavs hung on.

Barely.

“He makes those plays all the time,” LeVert said of DeRozan. “Crazy thing about it is he hit that same type of shot last year when I was in Indiana. Same day. New Year’s Eve. On my team — the Pacers. He missed it this time. I think we did a good job defensively.”

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LeVert, stepping back into the starting lineup for Garland, finished with a game-high 23 points while Love turned back the clock on the final night of 2022. Making just his second start of the season, in a performance that looked like his younger days , Love poured in 20 points to go with nine rebounds. It’s just the third time this season hitting the 20-point mark.

“We had a very ugly second half,” Love said. “It came down to getting those last stops we needed. We did everything we could to lose that game. But just have to survive and advance. Felt like March Madness out there. Have to win ugly sometimes. To win a game on the road like this was important to us. Closed out 2022 right.”

Mitchell, hounded by Chicago defenders throughout, stumbled to 15 points on just 5 of 16 shooting and 0 of 6 from 3-point range. He also committed seven of the team’s 21 turnovers.

“I’ve been playing quite s—– to be quite honest with you,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got to fix that and get better. I have to adjust.”

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Chicago entered the game on a two-game winning streak, with wins in five of its previous six. But playing the second of a back-to-back and third game in four nights, perimeter shots repeatedly fell short, layups kept getting blown and passes were far from crisp. The Bulls were sloppy and sluggish for most of the game.

DeRozan led the way, scoring 21 points on 7 of 17 shooting. Ayo Dosunmu chipped in with 19. Zach LaVine finished with just 15 points on 6 of 16 from the field, one night after scoring a season-high 43 in a home win over Detroit.

Following Thursday’s loss to Indiana, Love admitted he doesn’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. He leaves that up to others. But he said if he were to have one, it would not be going into 2023 with a losing streak.

He can check that off.

“We made it difficult,” Bickerstaff said. “But in that final timeout, the conversation was, ‘We are the best defensive team in the league. We need one stop.’ Our guys went out and Vert did a hell of a job and Donovan came over to contest without fouling. That’s who we are. Needed one stop and got it done.”

About time

Cavs backup center Robin Lopez, who missed the previous two games while fighting a stomach bug, was back in the lineup Saturday. Early in the second quarter, Lopez hit his first 3-pointer of the season — and just the eighth in the last three years.

Up next

The Cavs returned home for two straight games. The first is Monday night against the Bulls. Tipoff is set for 7 pm

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