Bulls ride third quarter surge to hold off reeling Cavs and stay in playoff race
Rajon Rondo nearly came up with a triple double as he finished with seven points, 15 assists and nine rebounds. AP

NIKOLA Mirotic carried the fight for the Chicago Bulls early before Jimmy Butler delivered the strong finish in dealing the Cleveland Cavaliers their third straight loss, 99-93, on Thursday (Friday, Manila time) at the United Center.

Mirotic had 10 points in the first five minutes but saw the Bulls trail by nine at the half, 50-41, as LeBron James dropped 19 before the break.

Kyrie Irving’s triple gave the Cavs their largest lead at 10 early after halftime before Rajon Rondo and Mirotic sparked the Chicago turnaround with an 18-5 run to close the third, where the Bulls outscored the Cavs 37-21 and led by seven into the fourth.  

The Cavs got within two early in the period before Jimmy Butler took over with 10 points in the fourth quarter to fend off every Cleveland rally.

Mirotic led all scorers in matching his season high output with 28 points as the Bulls, winners of two in a row,  came within a game of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat who are currently tied for 7th in the East. Butler added 25 markers, while Robin Lopez chipped in 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Rondo nearly came up with a triple double as he finished with seven points, 15 assists and nine rebounds. Chicago also swept the four-game season series against Cleveland.

James scored 26 to pass Shaquille O’Neal at seventh place in the NBA all-time leaders for points. Irving added 20 for the Cavs (47-27), who fell half a game behind the Boston Celtics for the East lead.

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