- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEVELAND -- Well, it was fun while it lasted.
All that was forgotten as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their second straight game in this series 106-101 and took a 3-2 series lead Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The bad, old days are here again, with James lording over the Bulls’ tired carcass like a hunter canvassing his prey.
Oh, it’s not “over over” yet. The Bulls can win Game 6 on Thursday, especially if Pau Gasol plays -- maybe only if Pau Gasol plays -- but you can almost hear that Bora Bora vacation breeze whistling in the Bulls’ ears.
Because Game 7 against LeBron in Cleveland? Good luck.
Hey, bartender, turn on the Semisonic because it’s just about closing time.
“It’s not the end,” Rose said. “And we’re not quitting.”
But this game had the feeling of the penultimate episode of this series and maybe of the Tom Thibodeau era in Chicago.
The Bulls made a fevered run to make it close in the fourth, but that will be the story of their season. They got close, but rarely did they have more than enough to win. A game after they let James beat them with a dagger jumper, the Bulls almost reversed the drama -- almost.
That's the difference here. When it comes to beating up on the Bulls in May, James deals in absolutes, while the Bulls traffic in what-ifs?
Few think the Bulls will lie down on Thursday. But if they challenge James and Irving like they did Tuesday, they might as well pack up their lockers before the game.
“I thought we were a step late with our help today,” Thibodeau said. "We've got to look at that and see how we can correct it."
Have fun watching, Thibs. The Cavs’ dynamic duo combined for 63 points on 58 percent shooting Tuesday. The Bulls’ help defense needs a signal flare and a rescue plane.
A fierce, driving James didn't settle for jumpers Tuesday. He had 38 points on 14-for-24 shooting, while a revived Irving had 25 points and three other players scored in double figures for Cleveland, which shot 51 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Rose, who had been thrilling fans with a resurgent series, scored 16 on just 7-for-24 shooting. He missed his last 11 shots, eight of which came after suffering what looked to be a recurrence of the shoulder stinger he got in the first game of this series.
“No excuses,” Rose said. “I just missed shots tonight.”
Rose, fresh off back-to-back games of more than 30 points, hit five of his first seven shots and scored 12 points in the first quarter. He then missed 15 of his final 17 shots.
Rose, who had nine rebounds, seven assists and just one turnover, had a chance at a tying layup with 48.8 seconds left, but he didn’t finish the transition drive and his floater was swatted by James.
The Bulls kept possession and called a timeout. The next play produced a wide-open 3-point attempt for Jimmy Butler right in front of the Cavs' bench -- shades of James in Game 4 -- but Butler, who had a team-high 29 points, air-balled it.
That's how it goes. A questionable ejection here, a missed rebound there, an air ball there, and Chicago’s season is on the line.
“When you look at the game, it comes down to the rebound there and the open shot,” Thibodeau said. “I like the fight that we had to come back. ... We’ve got to play a lot tougher than we did tonight.”
The rebound he speaks of didn’t happen on a James miss with 22.9 seconds left and the Cavs up 101-99. Joakim Noah missed the board, and Kirk Hinrich couldn’t handle Noah’s deflection, and it wound up in Iman Shumpert’s hands before Irving got fouled.
Irving hit two free throws, all but icing the game.
Butler nearly saved the day, with 14 in the fourth quarter, and Mike Dunleavy showed up with 19, but the Bulls really missed Gasol, who sat for the second straight game due to a strained hamstring.
He can defend the merits of the opera better than a pick-and-roll, but Gasol is deadly with that 18-foot jumper and can convert inside.
“Obviously, we miss him,” Dunleavy said. “But we’ve got a stable of good players that we feel like are fully capable of picking up the slack. Obviously, it hasn’t shown in the win column.”
Gibson’s ejection, for allegedly kicking Matthew Dellavedova, came early in the fourth quarter, with the Bulls down 10. After the game, Gibson said he was trying to free his foot from Dellavedova’s leg lock. That’s what the TV replays showed. It probably didn't help that Gibson knocked Dellavedova down in the first place.
It was an overreaction call, possibly exacerbated by the scrum that came after it. Maybe it was Joey Crawford being Joey Crawford. Gibson said it was too loud to argue his case when the referees finished their video review and ejected him with a flagrant foul 2.
“Bizarre,” Thibodeau said of the ejection.
It was a true “This ain’t the '90s NBA” call. Back in the day, you got a feature on “Inside Stuff” for that kind of moxie. In 2015, it was a turning point.
The Cavs scored seven straight after that ejection and all but turned this one into a laugher before the Bulls made a 20-7 run with 4:10 left.
“I love the way we fought back,” Rose said. “We had a crack at it. We just didn’t execute right. We had a couple chances to tie it. We just didn’t knock a shot down.”
If the Bulls could've stolen this game, you would've loved their chances of ending the series at home. If James misses that fallaway jumper at the end of Game 4, it's a different series. If only Gasol were healthy.
So many ifs, so little time left for the Bulls, who find themselves one loss from the end of a long, disappointing season.