Overview: The Chicago Bulls played the Cavaliers tough, but the Cavs were able to pull out a 112-102 win by outscoring the Bulls 35-25 in the fourth quarter. LeBron James finished with a line of 40/8/8 and took over the game in the fourth. Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 25 points.
-Give the Bulls a lot of credit. They looked like a completely different team on Monday. They made the extra pass, moved the ball from side to side, and only turned it over four times. They also dominated the Cavs on the offensive glass, to the tune of a 13-5 advantage in offensive rebounds. They looked to attack, and Noah was trailing every play for a layup or a put-back. They outscored the Cavs 56-38 in the paint. The Bulls did everything in their power to get a game on the road, but in the end the Cavs had too much three-point shooting and too much LeBron James for Chicago to handle.
-The 09-10 Cavaliers flummox me for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that they seem to be two completely different teams. When they execute offensively and make their shots, they get lax with their defense and rebounding. When they get stagnant on offense and miss open shots, they start locking teams down and beating them to every loose ball.
The 08-09 Cavs would dominate on both ends against teams they could handle, but struggled when they couldn’t impose their will on elite teams. This year’s squad is confident they can beat anybody, but will let weaker teams make it a game. It’s worked so far, but it hasn’t been great for my peace of mind.
Anyways, the first two games of this series were a microcosm of the 09-10 Cavs. In game 1, the Cavs locked down the Bulls but couldn’t establish their offense. In game 2, the Cavs gave up 102 points to an iffy offensive team but scored at will. Go with what works, I suppose.
-The Cavs started out the game doing all the right things on offense. They started their offense close to the basket, and looked to get LeBron by getting him some catches on the move for easy layups. It worked. When the Bulls collapsed, the Cavs kicked it out and hit an open three. As a result of that, all of the Cavs’ points in the first came from shots at the rim, threes, and free throws. Exactly what you want. At the end of the quarter, James Johnson decided to try and get physical with LeBron on the perimeter. Pieces of his pride are still scattered around the Q.
-The Cavs missed so many chances to break this game open it’s ridiculous. At the end of the first quarter, Jamario Moon failed to complete an easy alley-oop chance that would’ve put the Cavs up 12. He then compounded the problem by letting Ronald Murray get to the rim in the final seconds of the quarter.
In the second quarter, LeBron made a crushing block on Luol Deng and missed a wide-open three on the ensuing possession that would have put the Cavs up eight. Instead, Deng came back and dunked to cut the lead to three. Mo bricked a transition three that would have put the Cavs up nine, and the Bulls got a fast-break dunk off the long rebound. This kind of thing happened countless times. Every time the Cavs were on the verge of breaking it open, they got a little careless and let the Bulls back in it.
-The second quarter was not Cavalier basketball. Way too many offensive rebounds for the Bulls, and they were knocking down open shots. LeBron hitting four mid-range jumpers in the quarter was the only thing that allowed the Cavs to keep the lead. LeBron hitting mid-range jumpers is not something the Cavs should need to rely on against a .500 team.
-The Cavs had success going to Shaq early in the third, but he got into foul trouble and ended up sitting the rest of the way. The Cavs made some jumpers to keep their heads above water while the Bulls got whatever they wanted and scored 27 points in the quarter to tie the game heading into the fourth.
-The heartening thing about this game is that the Cavs didn’t back down when they got challenged. In the fourth quarter, everyone on the Cavs stepped up and made plays when they were asked to. While LeBron sat, Antawn had a nice floater in the post and Delonte made a huge and-1. (Delonte once again failed to put the Bulls away when he bricked a layup on the Cavs’ next possession.) Jamario drained a contested three.
Then LeBron entered the game. He scored 15 points in the last eight minutes of the game, and assisted on Anderson Varejao’s clutch jumper to boot. (Anderson Varejao’s clutch jumper!?)
After Andy made that shot, LeBron hit a huge three over Noah to put the Cavs up six with 4:20 to play. Then, because he’s LeBron, he decided to try a 17-foot up-and-under shot his next time down the floor. I have never seen him make or attempt that shot before. Why not try it out in a close playoff game? He missed, but got the offensive rebound back and drew the foul. He’s LeBron. It always works out. Then he dodged Noah in mid-air for a twisting lefty layup. Then he nailed two contested jumpers for the sheer fun of it. When the Bulls finally doubled him up top, he passed out of it and the ball got swung to Moon for the dagger three. LeBron is better at basketball than you are at most things.
The game wasn’t the dominant performance most people expected, but it followed the blueprint the Cavs have been following all season. Balance early, LeBron late. Once again, the Cavs allowed the game to stay close until the final seven minutes, and counted on LeBron to hit the afterburners. I’m not thrilled that this game was in doubt at any point, but that’s how the Cavs have played all year.
-Good God, LeBron. 40 points on 77% True Shooting. Eight assists and eight rebounds. 20 points on 16 jumpers. Fourth-quarter takeover. Two crushing blocks. In a playoff game that saw the Cavs in serious trouble at home. Games like this deserve to be etched as a stone tablet. This season, it’s just what he had to do to keep himself from becoming a punchline this off-season.
-Shaq looked fine when he was in there, but foul trouble is foul trouble. Hopefully he can keep his nose clean for the rest of the series.
-Andy had some nice moments, but he hasn’t quite looked like himself so far this series. Maybe he’ll turn it around in Chicago.
-Antawn Jamison: 14 points on 12 shots, four rebounds, three assists. A few jumpers mixed in with some nice cuts and a post move or two. It’s the same. thing. every. night. It’s getting creepy. Not complaining, though.
-Mo’s shot was off, but he looked to be aggressive. He got six assists, but the best news is the eight free throw attempts. And he flat-out earned four of those free throws, with two other ones coming from a savvy rip move. Good to see a 90% free throw shooter trying to get himself to the line.
-GLOBETROTTER GOOSENECK FOR THE WIN. Yes, I wrote a few days ago that I didn’t trust Jamario to make big threes. Well, I’m bad at life. He was flat-out money from deep tonight. He was huge in the fourth quarter. Play him until he starts missing. By the way, when Jamario does the goosey it may actually mean that he made a pact with evil forces in order to make big threes in the playoffs. And you know what? I’m fine with that. In all seriousness, Jamario had a great game tonight.
Bullets of Randomness:
-Begrudgingly give Joakim Noah some credit. I know he’s been trolling the city of Cleveland. He’s like that. But he talked trash and backed up by having one of the best games of his career against a hostile crowd. He was instrumental in keeping the Bulls in the game tonight. He was everywhere on the boards, played great off the ball, and even had some nice moves off the dribble on offense. Yes, he’s a jerk. But it’s not like he talked trash for his 15 minutes and then failed to back it up at all on the court. (*cough*DeShawn*cough)
-Rose got his points, but once again had to work for them. I’ll live with 23 points on 24 FGA every day of the week.
-Deng seems to have found some life — he looked worlds better tonight.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. The glass-half empty view is that Chicago gave Cleveland something to worry about tonight, and will give them hell when the series goes to United. The glass-half full view is that the Cavs took the Bulls’ best shot tonight and remain standing. We’ll see what the real deal is on Thursday. Until then, folks.