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Late 3-pointer blunts monster rally

SportsBasketballChicago BullsCleveland CavaliersBen GordonUnited CenterLeBron James

It may be known forever as "The Pass."

OK, maybe not.

But in the long, miserable history of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Bulls, it was a pass from LeBron James into the corner to Ronald "Flip" Murray for a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left that made the Cavs a 92-91 winner Thursday night at the United Center.

It ruined an amazing Bulls comeback from a 25-point deficit.

"We committed the cardinal sin," Bulls coach Scott Skiles lamented after the Bulls fought back to take a three-point lead, and seemingly the game, with 16 seconds remaining.

"We were up two, and you don't leave a three-point shooter [open]," said Skiles, who seemed exasperated after the game and passed on his usual opening comments to the media. "We got sucked in on LeBron. It is literally something we work on four times a week.

"What you have to do there is not give up the three. If LeBron goes in and scores, we have a tie game. … Even if LeBron lays it up and makes it, you still have a timeout to get the last shot so you have a chance to win or win in overtime."

Instead, the loss dropped the Bulls to 25-32 while the staggering Cavaliers broke a five-game losing streak to move to 33-26 behind James' 33 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

"Probably one of the harder losses to take," said Kirk Hinrich, who led the Bulls with 25 points and nine assists. "This is a huge month for us. It's unexplainable. We played hard the second half and should have won. But how often do we say that. It's the story of the season. Over and over. It's like Groundhog Day."

Although if this keeps up much longer, it will be a long spring for the Bulls, one without playoff games.

For Andres Nocioni, it was an embarrassing finish as he was the defender who sagged in to help on James' drive and left Murray open for the three with the Bulls leading 91-89 after Hinrich made one of two free throws with 11.6 seconds left.

After a timeout with 3.9 seconds left, the ball was inbounded to Nocioni, who was supposed to pass to Ben Gordon. But Gordon, whom Eric Snow hounded brilliantly all game, couldn't get loose.

Nocioni seemed to freeze as the crowd, which booed the Bulls earlier when they fell way behind, demanded that he do something. He finally threw up a wild shot that missed badly, allowing the Cavs to escape.

"It was a big win for us," said James, who was brilliant, if erratic in shooting 11 of 27 and missing his last two free throws after making 11 straight. "We had to win this. It would have been disastrous if we'd lost this after being up 25. It could have carried over."

It didn't seem that way for the Bulls. The Cavs jumped out to a 19-10 lead early and opened up a 20-point advantage in the second quarter. Cleveland relaxed some as the Bulls pulled within 55-37 at halftime and still led 75-60 after three.

But this is a Cavs team that gives up leads. Its offense is unimaginative and slow, too often becoming one-on-one efforts by James as the shot clock winds down. But James threw in some amazing long jumpers along the left baseline in his favorite move.

The Bulls' 21-6 run to open the fourth, however, tied the game 81-81. The teams traded points thereafter with Tyson Chandler, who had 15 rebounds, with a big follow on a Hinrich miss for an 84-83 lead and Gordon picking up a loose ball for a runner and an 88-87 lead with 39 seconds left.

Anderson Varejao, starting for the ill Drew Gooden, then missed two free throws and Luol Deng hit two. But Murray drove for a layup with 12.5 seconds left as a prelude to his winner off the pass from James.

"Frustrating," Gordon said. "Frustrating."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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