Whatever it takes to make you play better …
The headband returned. The aggressiveness, the dunks and the dazzling plays all came back, too.
LeBron James rarely has two subpar games in a row, especially in the playoffs.
James attacked from the start and scored 33 points, Kyrie Irving added 21 and the Cleveland Cavaliers evened their semifinal series with Chicago, beating the visiting Bulls, 106-91, in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Donning his signature headband for the first time in two months and powering to the basket, James kept the Cavs from falling into a 2-0 hole. He added eight rebounds and five assists for Cleveland, which led by 25 in the third quarter and withstood a third-quarter charge by the Bulls.
For the second straight game, the Cavs were without forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J. R. Smith (two-game suspension). But they had James.
“We’re a little banged up, we’re short-handed, so I have to be aggressive,” James said. “Even more aggressive than my usual self, and I was happy I was able to make a couple of plays to help our team win tonight.”
Jimmy Butler scored 18 and Derrick Rose had 14 points and 10 assists for the Bulls, who host Game 3 on Friday night. Pau Gasol added 11 points – 10 fewer than Game 1, when he destroyed the Cavs on uncontested jumpers.
Iman Shumpert added 15 points, James Jones made five 3-pointers and Tristan Thompson added 12 rebounds for Cleveland. Thompson started at power forward in Love’s spot, allowing James to move back to his usual role at small forward. On the perimeter is where James is most dangerous and he made it clear from the outset that he was not going to stand around and wait for the game to come to him.
The Cavs burst to a 13-2 lead and led by 22 in the first quarter.
“They smashed us,” Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls used a 14-0 run to get within 11 in the third quarter, but Jones hit consecutive 3-pointers and James scored twice near the basket to put Cleveland up by 16 going into the fourth.
He scored 14 points in the first quarter and got to the free-throw line five times, three more than in Monday’s 99-92 loss. James, who went just 9 of 22 from the field in Game 1, set the tone and his teammates followed.
“That’s what a leader of the team is supposed to do,” Rose said. “Everybody on the team followed right behind him.”