The Chicago Bulls and Cavaliers will begin 2023 by facing the same opponent against which they closed 2022 — each other — as the teams play in Cleveland on Monday.
Cleveland won the New Year’s Eve encounter Saturday in Chicago, 103-102, to snap a three-game losing streak. Cavs guards Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert successfully denied DeMar DeRozan’s game-winning shot attempt to preserve the win, despite going the game’s final two minutes without a point.
LeVert capped Cleveland’s scoring for the contest with the final two of his game-high 23 points. LeVert also grabbed seven rebounds and dished four assists. Kevin Love added 20 points and nine rebounds, and Cedi Osman and Isaac Okoro scored 12 and 11 points off the bench.
Mitchell — one of the NBA’s top 10 scorers at 28 points per game — was held to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the floor. He also committed seven turnovers.
Mitchell’s uncharacteristically off performance on offense made Cleveland’s defense all the more important to snapping its losing streak, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.
“It’s really hard to do for 82 games. Playing great defense in this league is not easy,” Bickerstaff said, via Cleveland.com. “The effort you have to put in, not only physically but mentally, it’s difficult. But they have bought in to trying to do their best.”
Cleveland boasts the NBA’s top scoring defense, holding opponents to 106.2 points per game. Saturday’s effort came in spite of the Cavs playing without Evan Mobley, a stingy rim-protecting presence in the paint alongside Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland.
Garland is averaging 1.3 steals per game, while Mobley is averaging 1.3 blocked shots per game. Garland and Mobley missed Saturday’s game with a thumb injury and ankle injury, respectively.
For Chicago, Saturday’s loss ended a seven-game streak scoring at least 110 points, including a run of four straight posting at least 118 points.
Crucial to the Cavs’ defensive effort against the Bulls was holding Zach LaVine — one game removed from scoring 43 points in a win over Detroit — to just 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the floor.
Despite its scoring struggles, Chicago’s own defensive effort — including limiting Mitchell — gave the Bulls an opportunity to win. DeRozan noted the team’s defense as a key for the Monday rematch.
“I’m happy with how we competed those last few minutes,” DeRozan told reporters. “We played hard, we played tough. We were locked in, we was focused, we understood what we needed to do, how we needed to do it, locked in together. Take more of that to the next game, going on the road, understanding we just lost. Only way to get ’em back is to bring that same type of intensity.”
Chicago had won five of its preceding six games going into Saturday’s contest, with DeRozan’s scoring playing a central role. The three-time All-NBA honoree has scored at least 21 points in the last eight games and averaged a shade less than 28 points per game over that stretch.
–Field Level Media