Wednesday, April 28, 2010 , Posted by dAVe at 2:46 AM
James, favoring a tender right elbow that appears to hurt worse than he's letting on, scored 19 points — 16 in the second half — and added 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Cavs finally saddled the stubborn Bulls to win the series 4-1. Unable to lift his right arm, James was forced to shoot a free throw left-handed with 7.8 seconds left.
Antawn Jamison scored 25 points for Cleveland, which will face the Celtics, reuniting teams that don't like each other and who played a testy seven-game series in 2008.
Game 1 is Saturday.
"A lot of people are saying they're too old, but we know they're going to come out and give us their best shot," said Jamison, who was not with the Cavs the last time Cleveland met Boston in the postseason. "It's going to be a hard-fought series. It should be fun."
Derrick Rose scored 31 points and Luol Deng 26 for the Bulls, who had several shots roll in and out in the final minutes.
Delonte West had 16 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 14 while racking up fouls against Chicago's big men.
The Cavs were intent on closing out the series at home but they couldn't shake the Bulls, who were trying to send the series back to Chicago for Game 6.
When Jamison buried a 3-pointer with 3:30 left, Cleveland was up 93-84, and for the first time all night Cavaliers fans finally started thinking about a matchup with the Celtics, who eliminated Miami earlier.
The Bulls, though, had other plans.
Deng hit a jumper and two free throws before Rose, who made Cleveland defenders look silly all series, made four straight from the line to pull the Bulls within 93-92 with 1:32 remaining.
Two free throws by James then gave Cleveland a three-point lead with 1:11 left.
Rose then tried a short shot in the lane that went halfway down before spinning out.
Cleveland's Mo Williams, who shot a dismal 2 for 13, then missed a baseline runner but the ball went out of bounds off Chicago's Joakim Noah. The Bulls did get the ball back on a steal, but Rose forced up an awkward left-handed layup over Anderson Varejao that was short.
James grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made his first attempt to make it 96-92, but with his elbow causing him pain, he tried his second shot left-handed and it was way off the mark.
Down four, the Bulls got a layin by Deng just before the buzzer.
James, who wore a sleeve on his right arm for the second straight game, refused to address his injury before the game.
"I don't know what is up with it, but I'm ready to play," he said.
So were the Bulls, who fought until the end to prolong their season — and for Del Negro.
Chicago, which had to win down the stretch to earn the No. 8 seed, entered the playoffs amid controversy surrounding its coach. Del Negro reportedly got into a physical confrontation with vice president of basketball operations John Paxson last month, an incident the team downplayed but could have long-term effects.
Rose said he would hate to see Del Negro lose his job.
"We both came in as rookies. It would be devastating," Rose said. "But it's not up to me, it's up to the front office. They're the ones that drafted me, so I guess I'm behind them."
Rose said it would be hard to imagine the Bulls firing their coach after making the playoffs.
"It would be unusual, especially since it's our second time (in the playoffs)," Rose said. "But the league changes constantly. I guess that's how it is in the NBA. It's tough to coach up here."
Cleveland's plan in the fourth quarter was to force the ball inside to O'Neal and let the Big Diesel power his way to the basket.
O'Neal drew two fouls in a five-second span on Chicago's Brad Miller, who was doing all he could to keep the 325-pounder out of the lane. Del Negro and the Bulls assistants protested the second foul and Miller had to be grabbed by his teammates before he got called for a technical.
One minute later, O'Neal got Noah to reach in and commit his fourth foul. The Cavs immediately went into O'Neal again, and this time he spun on Noah and dunked on the Bulls' outspoken center, sending the nervous, sellout crowd into a momentary frenzy. — AP