Chicago's forwards double teamed James and denied the superstar on a drive in the final seconds as the Chicago Bulls ended Cleveland's three-game winning streak with an 86-85 victory Thursday night, the Cavaliers' second home loss already this season.
James thought there was sufficient bumping to get a foul called on either Deng or Noah.
The Bulls, and the officials, saw it differently.
"I didn't feel like it was even close to being a foul," said Noah, who left guarding Shaquille O'Neal on the decisive play to help his teammate. "I wasn't worried because there was no contact at all."
Derrick Rose had 14 points and 11 assists and John Salmons added 14 points for the Bulls, who dropped the Cavs to 1-2 at home. Cleveland didn't lose its second game at home last season until April 16 and went 45-3 at Quicken Loans Arena.
Down 86-85, the Cavaliers, who sputtered on offense all night, buckled down and made the defensive stop they needed by forcing a shot-clock violation. Cleveland called a full timeout and set up a play, but before they could inbound the ball, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro called a 20-second T.O. to reset his defense.
James took the pass and got a step on Deng in the lane. As he neared the basket, Noah came over and bumped James, who lost the ball as he elevated. It went out of bounds with two-tenths of a second left, and the referees awarded it to Chicago. Just to make sure, they watched a video replay to confirm their call.
As they huddled at the scorer's table, James came over to give his view on the play.
After the horn, James made one last visit to officials Ron Garretson, Michael Smith and Eli Roe. There was nothing he could do at that point but shrug his shoulders and head to the locker room.
"It's a call you think you may get," James said. "I felt a push from Deng and some contact over the top from Noah. Enough to put me on the free throw line? Yes. But that's a judgment call for the officials."
Deng was confident someone would come to his aid.
"I knew my help would be there," he said. "I just couldn't give him a straight line drive. He's so good that you have to slow him down if he's going to drive. I knew Jo was coming with help."
James led the Cavaliers with 25 points. Shaquille O'Neal had 14 and 10 rebounds and Anderson Varejao added 12 with 13 boards. But Cleveland's offense never got into a flow and the Cavs didn't help themselves by going 12 of 20 on free throws.
"We had a chance to win at the end," O'Neal said. "If we limit some of our silly mistakes, we'll be fine."
Brad Miller scored 10 points and Chicago's reserves outscored Cleveland's 25-12 in a choppy game between the Central Division rivals.
"Neither team could make a shot," James.
He went down twice in the first half with apparent injuries while running off the floor.
First, he rolled his left ankle after pulling up under Cleveland's basket. Then, he banged himself hard on a chair while diving into the seats going after a loose ball. As James was being checked by trainer Max Benton, the entire Cleveland team and coaching staff walked over to make sure he was OK.
"I took some good shots tonight, and it wasn't even from the Bulls," James said. "I've had better days and I've had worse."
With the Cavaliers making their only trip this season to New York on Friday, James knows the atmosphere inside Madison Square Garden will be more electrified. He's eligible for free agency after the season, and Knicks fans are praying he'll come to the Big Apple and resurrect their NBA franchise.
James is prepared for another round of questions about his intentions next summer and joked that he hasn't ruled out signing with any team.
"I thought about playing everywhere, for every team in the NBA," he said diplomatically.
Even the Clippers?
"Everywhere," he said, smiling. "At one point in my life I thought about playing for every team. All of them."
- Actor Jeremy Piven, who plays superagent Ari Gold, on HBO's popular Entourage series, sat courtside. James made a cameo in last season's finale.
- James was excited that his beloved Yankees won their 27th World Series title. He also understands the frustration felt by some baseball fans because of New York's exorbitant payroll. "But at the end of the day, guys still got to go out there," he said. "Money can't help you swing the bat. Money can't help you grab the ball. Money can't help you turn double plays and money can't help you close out games."
- Bulls F Tyrus Thomas played 12 minutes. He missed Tuesday's game and Wednesday's practice with the flu. He flew commercial to Cleveland after he was cleared by a doctor. "It was bad, helpless," Thomas said. "Fever, chills, vomiting, I couldn't eat. I'm better now."