The Bulls' first quarter on Monday night could serve as an instructional manual on how not to return from a 2-0 trip that included a victory over the defending champion Heat.
The Bulls treated defense as if it were optional. They turned the ball over as if it were covered in oil. They might've damaged the United Center rims with some of their errant jumpers.
Then Nate Robinson, Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli checked in. And the bench provided a blueprint that the starters eventually followed in a 118-92 victory over the Cavaliers that featured a season high in points and tied season-bests in field goals (44), assists (34) and 3-pointers (10).
It was the Bulls' 11th straight triumph in this series and pushed the modest win streak to three games since the New Year's Eve matinee meltdown at the United Center to the Bobcats.
Carlos Boozer continued his strong play from the two-game trip with his fifth straight double-double, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds in just 30 minutes. Luol Deng added 19 points. Joakim Noah also posted a double-double, and the Bulls are 11-1 since Boozer signed when both Noah and Boozer have double-doubles.
"Carlos has been playing great," Noah said. "He's finishing everything around the rim, making plays for others. He's making us so much tougher."
The Bulls' slow start by the starters flipped when Gibson began scoring and rebounding inside, Belinelli rained 3-pointers like he was on an Italian playground and Robinson provided his usual infectious energy. Ridiculous 3-point shooting – the Bulls sank 10 of 14 – also aided the cause.
"They're in rhythm now," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's off-ball movement. It's hitting the paint, making the extra pass. They're rhythm 3s."
Belinelli finished with 15 points in 25 minutes, making three 3-pointers. Gibson posted 18 points and seven rebounds. And Robinson had 14 points, seven assists and at least that many excited gestures to help wake the Bulls from their somnambulant start.
The Bulls trailed 7-0 early and allowed 30 first-quarter points, trailing by as many as 10 in the opening period. Richard Hamilton even drew a technical late in the first before being replaced by Belinelli. Fittingly, Belinelli's acrobatic scoop shot with 5 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first half gave the Bulls their first lead.
"We watch from the sidelines and say to each other, 'Let's pick it up,' " Gibson said. "We say, 'The starters aren't on the right page so let's do our job.' It's just like how we go after each other in practice."
Dion Waiters' 16 points led the Cavaliers, who played without Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson and Luke Walton. C.J. Miles, who sank four 3-pointers, also left early with back spasms.
The blowout reached such proportions that even new signee Daequan Cook logged action. He missed his one shot, a 3-pointer, on one of the few miscues after the Bulls' slow start.
Star of the game: Carlos Boozer, Bulls, 24 points, 11 rebounds
Up next: Bucks at Bulls, 7 p.m. Wednesday
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