CLEVELAND – LeBron James attacked from the start and scored 33 points, Kyrie Irving added 21 and the Cleveland Cavaliers evened their semifinal series with Chicago with a 106-91 victory over the Bulls in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Donning his signature headband for the first time in two months and powering to the basket, James kept the Cavs from falling into a 2-0 hole. He added eight rebounds and five assists for Cleveland, which led by 25 in the third quarter and withstood a third-quarter charge by the Bulls.
For the second straight game, the Cavs were without forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension). But they had James, and he was more like himself after a subpar performance in the opener.
"We're a little banged up, we're shorthanded, so I have to be aggressive," James said. "Even more aggressive than my usual self, and I was happy I was able to make a couple of plays to help our team win tonight."
Jimmy Butler scored 18 and Derrick Rose had 14 points and 10 assists for the Bulls, who host Game 3 on Friday night. Pau Gasol added 11 points — 10 fewer than Game 1, when he destroyed the Cavs on uncontested jumpers.
James arrived at Quicken Loans Arena at around 4 p.m., three hours before tip-off. If there needed to be another sign of the game's importance to Cleveland, this was it, as the superstar typically gets to the arena for a home game around 90 minutes before the start.
Back in his familiar headband after ditching it since March 7, and with an all-business look from the time he took the floor for warmups, James came out as aggressively as he promised.
He scored 14 points in the first quarter and got to the free-throw line five times, three more than in Monday's 99-92 loss.
Houston 115, L.A. Clippers 109: James Harden scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Rockets even their Western Conference semifinal with the visiting Clippers at one game apiece.
Dwight Howard had 24 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who bounced back from a 117-101 loss in the opener.
Trevor Ariza added 15 points and 13 rebounds for Houston, which made 42 of its 64 free throws.
Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 34 points but had just eight after halftime as Houston keyed on him with All-Star point guard Chris Paul out because of a hamstring injury.
Coach Doc Rivers said before the game that Paul is getting better but still isn't "moving well." Rivers isn't sure Paul will be ready for Game 3 but expects him to play at some point in this series.