Big Ben leads Bulls down stretch

Tribune staff reporter

This is it.

No more individual worrying about being traded or looking over their collective shoulders for possible reinforcements.

The Bulls team that gritted out an 84-78 victory Thursday night over the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena is the one that will finish the season, wherever that postseason ride ends.

Armed with that knowledge, the Bulls celebrated NBA trade deadline day with their first victory here since Dec. 26, 2003, a span of seven games.

They also improved to 2-0 since limping into the All-Star break with five losses in six games and lifted a dismal road record to 10-18.

"It wasn't necessarily because of the deadline coming or going but for the simple fact on the road we haven't really been competing," Ben Wallace said. "We've been walking into other teams' arenas and just going through the motions. We wanted to put up a fight."

Wallace fought throughout with an energetic performance covering 44 minutes.

One day after returning to his roots and visiting local Cuyahoga Community College, where he played for two seasons, he stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, 19 rebounds, seven blocks, five assists and two steals. He also had countless deflections and loose ball acquisitions.

Wallace saved his best for last, teaming with Luol Deng to score all the points in a 14-2 run after Donyell Marshall hit a three-pointer to put the Cavaliers up 71-68 with 6 minutes 55 seconds remaining.

Wallace scored layups on the same play, a basic screen-and-roll with Kirk Hinrich, to start the spurt with an 8-0 burst. Then he kept a possession alive that ended with a Deng turnaround jumper and finally drained two free throws with 1:41 remaining.

More performances like this one and the Bulls wouldn't have been entertaining trading assets for Pau Gasol in the first place.

"Ben was outstanding," coach Scott Skiles said. "Obviously, you need more than one performance to win an NBA game. But without him, we wouldn't have had a chance. When he plays with that kind of effort, he can put up those kinds of numbers."

It's also a good thing the Bulls kept Deng, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and helped hold LeBron James to just five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the same period. James scored 29 overall.

"In the second half, I just tried to get into him," Deng said.

The Bulls overcame 24 turnovers and foul trouble with Hinrich, who had three in the first quarter, and Ben Gordon, who had four by the third. The Bulls ripped off a 21-2 second-quarter run with Hinrich on the bench as the Cavs went 4:40 and 5:15 without scoring.

The Cavs stormed back with a 16-3 third-quarter run. But the Bulls, who got Andres Nocioni back from a seven-game absence because of plantar fasciitis, weathered the challenge. Nocioni was limping afterward but said he would play Friday.

"All my stats don't mean nothing if we can't get the win," Wallace said, before smiling. "I do like the blocks though."

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