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Bulls survive early LeBron rally
Do it again.
That's basically the challenge management issues when Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas flash signs of greatness, as they did Friday night at the United Center in the Bulls' 100-95 victory over the Cavaliers.
Be prepared. Be consistent. Be someone on whom the team can build.
With Ben Wallace in a Cavaliers uniform and Drew Gooden done for the season, Noah and Thomas took their minutes and filled them with a combined 37 points, 25 rebounds and seven blocks.
When Noah dunked on back-to-back third-quarter possessions and Thomas followed with a rim rattler, the Bulls had ripped off a 10-1 run and later led by as many as 18 points.
Of course, the seemingly inevitable fourth-quarter collapse featured the Cavaliers pulling to within 99-93 and owning the ball after a Larry Hughes turnover. But LeBron James narrowly missed a three-pointer that would have made matters a one-possession game, and Hughes split two free throws.
Such an ending seemed implausible the way James stirred the soul during a first quarter that recalled the master immortalized by statue outside the building.
Staring down defenders as mere annoyances after scoring just one fourth-quarter point in these teams' last meeting, James dunked and dominated his way to tying his own franchise record with a 24-point quarter. James made all 10 field goals, tying Jamal Crawford's building record for most in a quarter.
James finished with 34 but went just 3-for-11 after the first quarter.
"I'm human," James said. "I made shots but they did a good job of turning up the pressure."
Down the stretch, Thomas and Noah made an emphatic statement that they want to remain together.
"I love playing with that guy," Thomas said. "He makes the game easy for me and I think I make the game easier for him. The more we play together and the more we play in the league and learn, it will be great for us and the organization."Challenged at a shootaround before the game by assistant Pete Myers, Thomas responded with 20 points and 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double.
Now on Sunday comes the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard, who dominated both Noah and Thomas on Wednesday in a 32-point drubbing that featured both Bulls suffering from foul trouble.
That's why Noah acted subdued after his seventh double-double, featuring 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
"We played well but we have to be more consistent," he said. "Our approach has to be more consistent every game. We both have a long ways to go. Potential doesn't win games and that's all that matters."
Actually, even the victories don't matter now that the Bulls have been eliminated, which is why the Bulls shut down Gooden. Friday marked his sixth straight game that he missed with a strained abdominal muscle that never improved.
Luol Deng, who made 3 of 4 three-pointers after trying just 16 all season entering, had 21 points.
Try to figure this Bulls team out. They lost to a glorified Development League team in Miami on Tuesday night but finished off a 3-1 season-series victory over the Cavaliers, the same margin they enjoyed over the powerhouse Pistons.
"It's sad our season is ending this way," Thomas said. "But nobody's career is over."