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LeBron dominant again as Cavs take 2-0 series lead on Bulls

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The Canadian Press
4/20/2010 12:14:52 AM
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CLEVELAND -- Joakim Noah had to go back for one more look.

Walking slowly across the confetti-littered court, Noah stopped at the spot just outside the arc where LeBron James had pulled up in his face and made a three-pointer.

"That's a long way," Noah said, shaking his head in disbelief as he looked at the distant rim. "You've got to be kidding me."

The Chicago Bulls kept daring James to shoot jumpers.

He obliged.

"They were telling me I can't make jump shots," James said. "They asked me to shoot a jumper so I did that. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again."

James scored 40 points -- 15 in a tour-de-force fourth quarter -- as the Cavaliers, fuelled by a rabid home crowd that booed every move by Noah, maintained home-court advantage by beating the Bulls 112-102 on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

James added eight rebounds and eight assists for the Cavs, who led 96-93 with 4:30 left before the league's soon-to-be-two-time MVP took over. He hit his three with the six-foot-11 Noah coming at him and followed with a quick dance move and wink directed at Chicago's talkative bench.

James then made two free throws, a layup and two jumpers, scoring 11 straight points as Cleveland opened a 107-98 lead with 1:36 left.

When James came off the bench in the fourth, teammate J.J. Hickson touched his fingers to his forearm the same way a baseball manager would to summon a closer from the bullpen.

In came basketball's version of Mariano Rivera.

"They call me the closer every time I come in in the fourth quarter," James said. "It's my time to put the game away or do what I do best and that's try to close the game the right way."

Noah, who drew the ire of Cleveland fans by criticizing the city's lack of downtown activity, had 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Afterward, the most brazen of the Bulls, said he had no regrets about his comments.

"Not at all," Noah said. "You like it? You think Cleveland's cool? I never heard anybody say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation. What's so good about Cleveland?"

Derrick Rose added 23 points and Luol Deng had 20 for the Bulls, who will head home for Game 3 on Thursday night.

Noah didn't make much of the incessant booing. He's heard it before.

"My whole life I've been booed," Noah said. "College I was booed a lot. Boston they don't like me over there. They don't like me here, either. It's OK. I have my friends."

Antawn Jamison scored 14 points and Jamario Moon made four three-pointers for Cleveland, which looked much more out of sync than in Game 1. Shaquille O'Neal, a force at both ends in the opener, scored eight points and played only 15 minutes -- zero in the fourth quarter.

James spent the first 3:26 of the fourth on the bench getting rest. When he returned to the court, the Cavs were clinging to an 85-82 lead over the Bulls, who were giving top-seeded Cleveland all it could handle and were intent on evening the best-of-seven series.

With the Cavs up three, James pulled up on Noah, who had criticized Cleveland's superstar for dancing on the court in a game earlier this season. James, though, gave a little shoulder shake after his basket and then ended his personal scoring outburst with a jumper over Kirk Hinrich just before the 24-second clock expired.

"LeBron's hitting unbelievable shots," Noah said. "Yes, it's tough. But we've got to play them again, so I don't want to be up here and give LeBron all this credit. Yeah, he played an unbelievable game. It's tough right now. I hate to lose, so I'm a little frustrated by that. But we'll be ready to go come Thursday."

The Bulls, who pushed Boston to seven games in the opening round last season, did a much better job rebounding and were more physical than in Game 1.

But Chicago had no answer for James. No one does.

He delivered one of those did-he-really-do-that dunks in the first quarter, a soaring slam over Chicago's James Johnson that could be one of the best -- and most ferocious -- of his career.

Staring from the left side, James drove to his right past Johnson down the foul line, reached back like a baseball pitcher looking for more velocity on his fastball and powered his jam over a stunned Johnson as Cleveland's sellout crowd gasped and then erupted.

"It definitely ranks up there," James said. "It's one of the best ones."

The dunk shook the backboard, not the Bulls.

They trailed by 10 points early in the second quarter, but worked their way back with extra effort, especially on the offensive glass.

Noah grabbed four of Chicago's eight offensive rebounds in the first half, resulting in 13 second-chance points. Anthony Parker's three-pointer put the Cavs up 50-44, but with O'Neal on the bench after picking up his third personal, Noah scored six straight points as the Bulls pulled within 52-50 at halftime.

NOTES: The Cavs made 22 of 24 free throws. ... The Bulls are an NBA-best 107-35 in home playoff games. ... The Cavs gave all fans a box of macaroni and cheese as part of a promotion. That sounded tasty to Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. "I'm Italian, I like macaroni," Del Negro said. "I'm hoping I can get a few boxes after the game. I love pasta." ... Someone's minutes for Cleveland were going to get pinched in the playoffs and so far it's Hickson, who averaged more than 20 per game in the regular season but has played just 50 seconds in the series. He's the odd-man out, but Hickson won't complain. "I understand we have goals we need to accomplish," he said. "I want whatever the team wants."

LeBron James (Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)
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