Basketball: Butler serves up bull run

Cavaliers forward LeBron James passes as Bulls forward Jimmy Butler defends during the first half of their NBA clash at Quicken Loans Arena. James (31 points) and Butler (20) were their respective teams' top scorers.
Cavaliers forward LeBron James passes as Bulls forward Jimmy Butler defends during the first half of their NBA clash at Quicken Loans Arena. James (31 points) and Butler (20) were their respective teams' top scorers.PHOTO: REUTERS

He leads Chicago to win over undermanned Cavs with strong fourth-quarter showing

CLEVELAND (Ohio) • A half-fit LeBron James was given a rude reminder of what it was like to be the Cleveland Cavaliers' only superstar - not much fun.

With his two "Big Three" sidekicks sidelined - Kyrie Irving with a troublesome hamstring and Kevin Love with food poisoning - he soldiered on, facing former Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls despite suffering from a flu virus.

Jimmy Butler scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Bulls beat the short-handed National Basketball Association (NBA) champions 106-94 on Wednesday.

Coming off a 52-point performance in a win over Charlotte on Monday, the Chicago guard struggled to find his groove early, scoring just three points in the first half.

But Butler - and the Bulls - roared back from their slow start.

Referring to Wade, Butler said: "The guy who wears No. 3 on this team came to me and was like, 'Win the game.' I knew I was going to have to do that in the fourth anyway, but with him telling me that, you can't let D-Wade down.

"He's been doing it for years. It was my time to step up."

It had looked as if the Bulls might let a great chance against the weakened Eastern Conference leaders go begging when they fell into a quick 15-2 hole. However, they battled back to lead by as many as 17.

Six Bulls players scored in double figures. That included Taj Gibson, who connected on nine of 10 shots from the floor to score 18 points, Michael Carter-Williams with 13 and Wade with 10.

James finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes. He gave the Cavs faithful a scare when he came down awkwardly on one ankle in the third quarter, but appeared to walk it off.

He insisted that there was never any question he would play.

"If I can walk, I can go, unless coach tells me to sit down," he said. "My plan was to play."

Two baskets from him had pulled the Cavs within 89-88 midway through the fourth quarter when Butler drew an offensive foul from the superstar as he attempted another drive.

Butler then nailed a three-pointer at the other end to extend Chicago's lead and the Cavs would get no closer.

The Bulls (18-18) beat the Cavs for the second time this season, after a 111-105 victory on Dec 2 - the last time the Cavaliers (26-8) had lost a game.

In Oakland, Stephen Curry scored 35 points and Kevin Durant had 30, as the Golden State Warriors (31-5) won their ninth straight home game with a 125-117 win over the Portland Trail Blazers (15-22).

The Warriors helped seal the victory with a 34-second burst in the final quarter that included a Curry three pointer, a Shaun Livingston dunk and a Draymond Green block.

"We are on a mission to do great things this year," said Curry. "I played a great game tonight. I have to keep doing my job and hopefully we will be in a great position at the end of the year."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Butler serves up bull run'. Print Edition | Subscribe