Overview: After leading by as many as 21 in the third quarter, the Bulls were able to survive a 38-29 fourth quarter by the Cavs to hold on for a 108-106 victory. LeBron James led all scorers with a line of 39/10/8, and Kirk Hinrich led the Bulls with 27 points on 12 shots.
Not a good loss for the Cavs. They came out completely flat, failing to run their offense and giving up way too many good looks to Rose and Hinrich. Trying to turn it on after getting down 21 points is not how to win playoff games.
Shaq was ineffective, going 2-8 from the field, committing fouls, and having some serious trouble in the pick-and-roll game. The Cavs had much more success when they went small later in the game, but by then it was too late.
LeBron had a great game, but the Cavs needed a perfect one. He went for 39 points on 26 shots, but didn’t get his teammates involved early. He had 14 points on 13 jumpers, but took some ill-advised heat-checks in the second half and missed five free throws. The main issue is that he didn’t get enough support, but he made some mistakes of his own.
Not enough ball movement, not enough drives to the hole, too much reliance on the three-ball. Mo and LeBron hitting some tough threes off the dribble allowed the Cavs to shoot 40% from beyond the arc, but the Cavs got outscored in the paint for the second straight game. They have to take it to the hole.
The Cavs did everything right down the stretch. They went hyper-small, and that allowed them to turn it into a close game. Delonte made some huge offensive rebounds, LeBron did a great job of defending the paint, Antawn finally started taking it inside, and the Cavs started to hit some threes. It proved to be too little, too late, but it gave everyone a look of just how dangerous this team can be.
Give the Bulls a lot of credit for how they played down the stretch, especially Rose. Rose and Deng made five huge floaters in a three-minute stretch in the fourth to keep the Cavs at bay, and Cleveland probably wouldn’t have broken through if they didn’t hit those shots. You don’t see the floater much anymore, and going hard to the rim is generally the better option, but that shot saved Chicago’s bacon on Thursday.
The Cavs hit some crazy threes to give themselves a chance at Sundiata Gaines-ing the game late, but two crucial errors ended up doing them in. With the Cavs trailing by three with eight seconds to play, Mike Brown told the Cavs to run the scissor-cut set out of a timeout. It would have set Mo Williams up with a good look from the corner, but first the ball went to 66% free throw shooter Anderson Varejao at the elbow. Luol Deng is no fool, and quickly put him on the line. Varejao missed the second one, allowing the Bulls to go to the line and make it a two-possession game.
Mo Williams hit a crazy three to cut the lead to one, but with no timeouts left they weren’t able to set up a play with four seconds to go. They got a look at a game-winner, but that look was a half-court Anthony Parker three off the dribble. That’s not what you want there.
Two big calls hurt the Cavs late. LeBron took the ball right at Deng in transition with the Cavs trailing by three and made it with contact, but got whistled for a charge. In my opinion, it was a 50-50 call. Deng wasn’t stiff as a board, but he wasn’t shuffling when LeBron jumped straight into him. I though it was going to go LeBron’s way when I saw it; if I was a Bulls fan, I probably would’ve thought Deng drew the charge. One of those calls that makes me glad I’m not an NBA ref.
Then there was the non-call on Joakim Noah’s headlock of LeBron when he was going to rebound the ball with the Cavs down one with eight seconds to go. It was off the ball, so it wasn’t an easy call to see, but it was a missed call. You can get mad about it all you want, but the bottom line is that when you play close games, you run the risk of putting the game in the hands of the officials. The Cavs could easily have played well enough to decide the game themselves, but they didn’t.
11 missed free throws in a 2-point game. That’s one thing. When only one of those free throws was missed by a power forward or center, that’s positively maddening. 7-13 for LeBron. 2-5 for Mo Williams, who missed three free throws in the entire month of April heading into this game. Absolutely unacceptable.
I am spitting mad right now. Remember how I used to say that you wanted these kind of games to happen in February? Well, now it’s the playoffs. I don’t buy the “wake-up call” thing either. This team got upset in the playoffs last season. Their best player is a free-agent this off-season. Boston had 2008. LA had last year. Orlando has the future. No team has more pressure on them than the Cavs do, and they’re acting like they don’t need to take every playoff game seriously.
Like I said, if they run through the Bulls in the next two games, I’ll buy the “wake-up call” thing. Right now, all I see is a team that hasn’t won a playoff game on the road this season giving up a playoff game against a 41-41 team to put them three losses away from an unthinkable collapse. With LeBron scoring 38 points. If the Cavs don’t pull it off this season, this is the kind of game that will make LeBron look at his options. If that doesn’t make you terrified, I don’t know what will.
-I’ve covered most of my LeBron notes. He was absolutely incredible; I’m not sure any other player in the NBA is so much as capable of delivering a performance like that.
There were some mistakes, and those are the plays that will go under the microscope in a close loss. Missed free throws. Heat-check jumpers when the Cavs needed to squeeze every possession. Getting stripped by Noah late. Getting burned by Deng a few times. I hate when LeBron plays this well in losses, because I can’t in good conscience gush about his performance.
-My biggest concern so far is how invisible Varejao has been. Three points and six fouls in 20 minutes tonight for Andy. Not only has Andy been invisible on offense, but he hasn’t been making plays on defense either. He needs to get going.
-Acceptable game from Mo. He didn’t run the offense very well (in fact, the Cavs really didn’t run an offense this game), but he made some big shots and got his points.
-Jamison looked awful when he shot threes early, and great when he went to the basket late. His final line? 19 points on 17 shots, and 11 rebounds. Typical Jamison game + more possessions.
-Delonte didn’t put up points and he had serious trouble staying in front of Rose. He at least looked like himself on the offensive end, hitting an open three, rarely settling for mid-range jumpers, and making some great hustle plays to get the Cavs extra possessions.
-Damed if you do, damned if you don’t with Shaq at this point. The Cavs were clearly better with him off the floor in this game, but need him for the later rounds. I think MB did the right thing by giving him significant burn in the first half and not forcing him back in after the Cavs had success going small.
-Cavs gave up seven points in the four minutes LeBron sat.
Bullets Of Randomness:
-The 31 points on 26 shots isn’t all that impressive from Rose. He did look more aggressive at times, but mostly he made some mid-range jumpers and push shots that he missed in the first two games. Rose not turning the ball over once is much more noteworthy.
-Wow, this team looks completely different when Kirk Hinrich puts up 27/5/5 instead of playing like a zombie. Seriously, where did THAT come from? He has officially moved to the top of my enigma list.
-Anyone else catch the moment where Miller got called for pushing Varejao, then they were both smiling and chatting amicably about it when they came back down the floor? I kind of like the idea of guys like Varejao, Miller and Ginobili being friends when they step off the court and stop getting paid to piss people off.
-Well, if there was ever a good day to lose a close playoff game, it was probably NBA Draft day. Tomorrow’s top basketball headline will probably be about Joe Haden’s days as a high school point guard. Until later, guys.