Cavs center Andrew Bynum dominated for the first time in Cleveland, showcasing his talents with a 20-10-5 performance and leading the charge for a 97-93 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Bynum played a season-high 30 minutes and also contributed three assists to go along with his points, rebounds and blocks. With Kyrie Irving still in the midst of a season-long funk, Bynum was the key for preventing yet another fourth-quarter meltdown.
The Cavs nearly led coast-to-coast and had a 12-point lead with 10 minutes left when the usual comeback began. Chicago was led by 27 points and 11 assists from veteran Luol Deng — rumored trade target — plus 18 points from rookie Tony Snell. They used an 18-5 run to lead by one with four minutes left.
But that’s when Bynum made a jumper, the Bulls made a few mistakes offensively and the Cavs somehow held on for victory. They improved to 5-12 on the young season, including a somewhat impressive 4-3 at home.
The fact that Bynum had such a game against the usually staunch defense of Joakim Noah and the Bulls makes it even more impressive. His previous best game of the season was a 16-6 effort in the blowout against the Spurs. He had yet to play even 24 minutes in a night, let alone in the second half of a back-to-back.
Many fans never expected to see this kind of performance this year or ever again from the former Los Angeles Laker. Back in late July, shortly after he arrived in Cleveland, here’s what our very own Scott wrote about expectations:
“The team, however, has made zero attempts to hide the fact that Bynum, presently 25 pounds over his desired playing weight, has a long road ahead of him if he is going to see the basketball court for any extended period of time. There is plenty of discussion surrounding a plan—a strict and time-sensitive workout and rehabilitation regimen that began on Saturday, involving the team and the Cleveland Clinic—that aims to have the former All-Star in playing shape by the onset of the 2013-14 regular season.”
He missed the entire preseason. The talk about even being ready for Opening Night was astonishing. The 26-year-old then played and shined against the also suddenly terrible Brooklyn Nets. Then, there was the consideration of retirement as he struggled to deal with his current battered state. Through 16 games, he was playing like a shell of his former self.
He was shooting only 37%, including a shocking 29% in the restricted area. The Cavs were running their offense through him in the post, yet were having trouble even making simple entry passes to get him the ball. They changed up the location of those posses last night and with some better shooting results, he surprisingly showed he can still be a destructive force on the basketball court.
With an All-Star-worthy Andrew Bynum, the Cavs can be a dangerous team. Thus far, they’ve been a terrible team, one of the worst in the game. Irving has struggled in his junior year, Tristan Thompson had been regressing and the rest of the lot weren’t doing enough to pick up the slack. Now? Again, anything is possible with 65 games still left.
Here are some other news and notes from a Wine & Gold winner:
— Earl Clark was out sick on Saturday, so the Anthony Bennett at small forward experiment continued in full force. The rookie from UNLV played just six first-half minutes littered with two fouls and two missed shots. The results again were not pretty. But there’s no better time than the present for Bennett to figure out how to compete consistently in the NBA. This team has been dreadful, but at least Bennett provides long-term upside over Clark or Alonzo Gee. And although he might not be ready for heavy minutes at the 3, it’s all the Cavs have to afford.
— Thompson broke out of a five-game slump with a 14-14 outing. He had been shooting just 26% and averaging only five points during that stretch, all losses for the Cavs. Last season, Thompson averaged 13-10 in the final 57 games of the season in the absence of Anderson Varejao. It’s possible the two, especially with Bynum hogging the post, are struggling to find a new type rhythm together. But Thompson’s promising right-handed shooting also was not going well. Last night, he was 4-7 from the field and 6-8 at the line.
— Speaking of efficient shooting, take a look at Dion Waiters. He scored 20 points on just 10 shots, his third straight game with at least 20 points. He now has 65 points on just 42 shots in the three games since the trade rumors erupted on Wednesday afternoon. Again, he focused on attacking the rim decisively and waiting for more catch-and-shoot opportunities. He had a few mid-range shots today, but made three of five. This is the Waiters that can co-exist successfully with Kyrie Irving. Now it’s just a matter of getting Irving back on track.
— C.J. Miles returned to the starting lineup on Saturday and played 16 minutes. Matthew Dellavedova played just 3 minutes after starting for the majority of the last week. Sergey Karasev did not play. I’d like to see more lineups where Miles joins two of the Irving-Waiters-Jarrett Jack guards to provide more spacing and long-distance shooting. Hopefully that becomes a concerted effort once Miles can get more minutes.
The Cavs are off again until Wednesday when they host the Denver Nuggets (9-6). They then play in Atlanta (9-9) on Friday before returning home to play the LA Clippers (12-5) on Saturday. Winning at least one and hopefully two of those games would go a long way toward a comeback effort this season.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)