CLEVELAND: The eastern conference semi-finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs tipped off with the Chicago Bulls facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1. The Chicago Bulls came in oozing with confidence, unafraid of LeBron James and convinced they could keep their playoff momentum rolling.
Derrick Rose made sure they did.
Looking like the league MVP he was before being slowed by knee injuries, Rose scored 25 points, Pau Gasol added 21 and the Bulls led from the start in a 99-92 victory over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.
Rose, who sustained a shoulder stinger in the closing minute, helped the Bulls swipe home-court advantage from the Cavs. Cleveland was missing starters Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, but its bigger issue was not stopping Rose or his pick-and-roll plays with Gasol.
After all he’s been through – surgeries, hours of rehab, uncertainty about his future – Rose, who has missed over 180 games the past four seasons, is savoring every moment back in the postseason.
Jimmy Butler added 20 points and banked in a contested jumper with 30 seconds left as the Bulls closed it out, silencing a roaring Cleveland crowd already worried about Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Kyrie Irving scored 30 points and James added 19 and 15 rebounds for Cleveland, playing its first game since Love – one of the Cavs’ Big 3 – was lost for the remainder of the post-season with a shoulder injury.
Finally fully healed after dealing with injuries all season, the Bulls are peaking at the perfect time. Coming off a 54-point win over Milwaukee to wrap up its opening-round series, Chicago jumped to an early lead, withstood a Cleveland comeback and buckled down on defense in the closing minutes to hand Cleveland just its second loss in 24 home games.
After the Cavs battled back from a 16-point deficit to tie it 51-all, the Bulls went on a 15-0 run highlighted by Rose’s jumper that was a snapshot of him as league MVP in 2011.
With James guarding him, Rose created some space with a dribble and hit a step-back, off-balance 3 to give Chicago a 61-53 lead. The Bulls weren’t done as Butler scored on a dunk, Gasol converted a three-point play and then knocked down another short jumper.
It was a nice start for the Bulls, but as Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was quick to point out, only that.
HOUSTON: The Los Angeles Clippers knew no one player could make up for Chris Paul’s absence.
So they all chipped in to fill the void.
Blake Griffin had 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double to lead six double-digit scorers and lift the Clippers to a 117-101 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Houston scored five straight points to cut the lead to one with about 7 1/2 minutes left. Matt Barnes got the Clippers going after that, making two 3-pointers in a 12-0 run that made it 101-88 3 minutes later, and the Clippers coasted to the victory.
Barnes raved about Griffin’s work as a facilitator.
Paul, who has a strained left hamstring, missed his first game of the season. But Jamal Crawford had 21 points and Barnes added 20 to help pick up the slack.
Dwight Howard led Houston with 22 points and James Harden added 20, but had nine of the team’s 23 turnovers.
Houston was well-rested after having six days off after beating Dallas in five games. The Clippers showed no signs of fatigue despite having only about 48 hours to get ready for this series after eliminating defending champion San Antonio in Game 7 on Saturday night.
Harden scored five straight points after the Clippers took their big lead, but Houston couldn’t do much after that and fans started heading for the exits with about 2 minutes left.
The Clippers scored 37 points in the third quarter to lead by six at the start of the fourth. They were up by eight early in the fourth when Houston used a 6-2 spurt, with two dunks and a block by Howard, to cut the lead to 87-83.
The Clippers were up by six with 2 minutes left in the period when Houston scored five quick points, capped by a dunk from Corey Brewer, to get within 78-77.
Los Angeles scored the last five points of the quarter, powered by a 3-pointer by Crawford, to lead 83-77 entering the fourth.
Chicago Bulls 99 beat Cleveland Cavaliers 92
Los Angeles Clippers 117 beat Houston Rockets 101