CHICAGO - The rookie threw down an authoritative dunk, drawing cheers from Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers fans alike.
No, not THAT rookie. The other one.
Kirk Hinrich extended his impressive streak Monday night, dunking for the first time this year, outplaying his more-heralded rookie counterpart and leading the Bulls to a 92-81 victory over the Cavaliers. Hinrich finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while LeBron James had 18 points with only three rebounds and three assists.
"Maybe a little bit," Hinrich said when asked if playing James gave him any added motivation. "He's really a great, great player. You want to play against great players and you want to do well against them."
Hinrich isn't so bad himself. Solid all season, he's turned his game up a notch recently, scoring a season-high 25 points on Feb. 21 and recording the first triple-double by a rookie this year Saturday.
He led the Bulls on both ends of the floor Monday, scoring 11 during a decisive third-quarter spurt and helping shut James down. James was only 7-of-17 from the floor, and three of those field goals were on breakaway dunks off of steals.
"I wasn't surprised by it," James said. "I know he can play."
The loss was only the second in six games for Cleveland, but it was a costly one. A victory would have pulled the Cavaliers within percentage points of Boston for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland while Juneau's Carlos Boozer had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"It's disappointing, but we have to keep our heads up," James said. "We won a lot of games last week that we weren't supposed to win, so we're going to win a lot more games to make this playoff push."
After leading by as many as 16 points in the first half, Eric Williams cut the Bulls' lead to 55-45 on a layup with 8:30 left in the third. But the Bulls wouldn't let Cleveland get any closer, thanks in large part to Hinrich.
Eddy Curry made a pair of free throws, and Hinrich followed with an impressive save to set up another Chicago trip to the foul line. Knocked to the floor near the baseline in heavy traffic, he managed to bat a ball heading out of bounds back onto the court. Jerome Williams grabbed it, drew a foul and made a free throw.
A few minutes later, Hinrich was falling to the ground when he heaved the ball up and toward the basket. The ball went in somehow, giving Chicago a 65-47 lead with 4:13 to play.
After a timeout, Hinrich made three free throws and a 3-pointer, all but sealing the victory for the Bulls.
"Kirk's been unreal," said Curry, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. "He was able to sit back and slowly get better, slowly get better without all the pressure (James and Carmelo Anthony) had. Right now, I think he's playing the best basketball on the team."
The Bulls took control of the game with a 22-5 second-quarter run that gave them a 45-30 lead.
With 5:27 left in the second quarter, Hinrich drove past James and Ilgauskas to score on a running dunk. It was his first slam of the year, and it brought a rousing reaction from the fans and his teammates. The crowd roared, and the Bulls bench jumped to its feet, clapping and laughing.
Even coach Scott Skiles had a smile on his face.
"I figured that was the easiest play to make," Hinrich said. "I didn't want to get blocked from behind and figured that would shock everybody. ... It's nice to show people I can do it."
Celtics 117, Magic 96
BOSTON - Mark Blount had career highs of 28 points and 21 rebounds - the Celtics' first 20-20 game in 10 years - and Boston scored the first 25 points of the fourth quarter in beating Orlando.
The Celtics won their third consecutive game and just their fourth under interim coach John Carroll, who took over when Jim O'Brien resigned on Jan. 27. Blount had his fifth consecutive double-double, Paul Pierce scored 25 points with nine assists for Boston.
Wizards 111, Hornets 106, OT
WASHINGTON - Gilbert Arenas scored eight of his 35 points in overtime, and the Wizards recovered after blowing a 21-point second-half lead. The Wizards scored more points in the five-minute overtime (15) than they did in the entire fourth quarter (10).
Jarvis Hayes, starting for injured swingman Jerry Stackhouse, added 16 points for the Wizards, who shot 52 percent and have won three of four.
Baron Davis scored 18 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and added 11 assists for the Hornets.
Grizzlies 81, Spurs 80
SAN ANTONIO - Lorenzen Wright put back his own missed shot with 19.2 seconds remaining to cap a 14-point rally by Memphis.
The Spurs, who played a second game without injured Tim Duncan, made only one field goal in the final 9:27.
Earl Watson led Memphis with 13 points, while Wright had 12 and Pau Gasol 11.
Jazz 94, Pistons 86
SALT LAKE CITY - Reserve Gordan Giricek scored 24 points in Utah's fourth straight win.
Giricek had his best game since coming to the Jazz in a trade from Orlando for DeShawn Stevenson six games ago. Giricek made 10 of 17 shots, including all four of his 3-point attempts.
Rasheed Wallace scored 27 points for Detroit in his best outing since arriving from Atlanta.