CHICAGO (AP) -- 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 Carlos Boozer had 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. Hinrich capped the spurt with a 3-pointer in front of James, but that wasn't even his most impressive shot of the run.
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."
Cavaliers coach Paul Silas continues to be impressed with how James has handled his transition from preps to the pros. "It's kind of remarkable," Silas said of the 19-year-old player. "I think we all were pleasantly surprised he was able to grasp things so quickly. We knew he was athletic, we didn't know he'd have such a good mind for the game. He's a quick learner and he's a good person. He's really got the whole package." ... Bulls G Kendall Gill didn't play because of tendinitis in his right Achilles' tendon. ... Former Bulls G Jay Williams was at the game.