Cleveland's LeBron James rediscovered his headband and his peak form to lead the Cavaliers to a 106-91 victory over Chicago on Wednesday to square their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1.
All four semifinal series across the two conferences stand at 1-1, after Houston beat the Los Angeles Clippers to square that match.
James donned the signature headband he ditched in March, and played like a man possessed on his way to 33 points. He powered to the basket, leaving Bulls defenders in his wake and keeping the Cavaliers - missing two starters - 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.
James said the choice to wear the headband was spur of the moment.
"It was in my locker and I decided to give it a go," he said. "It was time for it to make a comeback."
The Cavs made one, too, despite again missing forward Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension).
"We're a little banged up, we're short-handed, 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.
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points, Iman Shumpert added 15 points, James Jones made five 3-pointers and Tristan Thompson added 12 rebounds for Cleveland. Thompson started at power forward in Love's spot, allowing James to move back to small forward. On the perimeter is where James is most dangerous and he made it clear from the outset that he wasn't going to stand around and wait for the game to come to him.
"There wasn't one possession where he wasn't dominant," Irving said. "When he has that mindset, he's the greatest player playing our game right now."
The Cavs burst to a 13-2 lead, led by 22 in the first quarter and never looked back.
"They smashed us," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Along with his old look, James seemed all-business from the time he took the floor for warm-ups. He scored 14 in the first quarter and got to the free-throw line five times, three more than in Monday's loss. James, who went just 9 of 22 from the field in Game 1, set the tone and his teammates followed.
"For the leader of the team, that's what you're supposed to do," Rose said. "Everybody on the team followed right behind him."
Houston's star players also rose to the occasion in a similar manner to James, producing a 115-109 win over the Clippers.
James Harden scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter while Dwight Howard had 24 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who bounced back from a loss in the opener. Game 3 is Friday in Los Angeles.
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 locked down on him with All-Star point guard Chris Paul out with 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 if Paul will be ready for Game 3 but expects him to play at some point in this series.