On the back of a dominant 20 point, 10 rebound, 5 block, 3 assist (and a few hockey assists) effort from Andrew Bynum, the Cavaliers defeated a feisty Chicago Bulls squad to get back into the win column. Kyrie Irving struggled from the field but played with reckless abandon at both ends. His energy jump-started the Cavs early and his attacking of the basket netted him 19 points. Dion Waiters had perhaps his most efficient game of the season, finishing 8-10 from the field for a team high 20 points.
1st Quarter: The Cavs played the 1st quarter with a lot of energy. Kyrie started off firing, and pushed the tempo off defensive rebounds. Alonzo Gee threw down an athlete alley-oop thanks to Kyrie’s transition attack. Andrew Bynum was a force to start the game. He had a vicious dunk and rejected Noah twice at the rim. The Cavs looked pretty good offensively for the entire quarter. For a while they were putting a hurting on Chicago but the Bulls fought back and executed some crisp half-court offense to get back in the game. Kirk Hinrich made 3 of 4 shots to finish the quarter with 7 points. At the end of the 1st, the Cavs barely led the Bulls 27-25. For two teams struggling mightily, it seemed like pretty high-level basketball being played. I reject the notion that the loss of Derrick Rose is the end of the Bulls’ playoff hopes. They won 45 games without him last season.
2nd Quarter: Anthony Bennett started the second quarter and the Bulls went right at him. On his first play he was picked and lost Taj Gibson running around screens. He fouled Gibson on a dunk attempt. On the next play Gibson posted up and was fouled by AB on a spin move. After the inbounds, Gibson shot right over AB for a 10 foot bucket. Between a bricked 3 and an airballed 17 footer, Bennett did manage to throw down an uncontested dunk off a broken play. Twitter erupted. Waiters provided a nice spark, making his first 4 shots including a couple “screw it, I’m driving” (SIID) plays. He also canned a spot 3 and a 17 foot pull-up off the dribble. Unfortunately, he was getting abused by Luol Deng at the other end. Dion looked visibly frustrated on a few plays where Deng got easy buckets. He was fronting the post and no Cavalier rotated to help on the lob pass. Varejao was the recipient of a handful of pick and pops and converted all of them. The game was pretty scrappy in the 1st half, and the Cavaliers continued to attack the basket. They earned the right to shoot bonus free throws with almost 6 minutes remaining in the second quarter. And then the tempo really picked up. The Cavs out and and ran off misses, made decisive if not always effective movements away from the ball, and attacked the hoop repeatedly. Going into the game the Cavs were last in the NBA in points in the paint per game at 33.5. They finished the half with 24 PITP and a 5 point lead: 56-51. The half featured solid effort at both ends of the court and a very good half for Andrew Bynum, who posted 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a +9 in 14 minutes. As a team the Cavs shot 59% against a solid defensive team.
3rd Quarter: The third quarter started with a Mike Brown fantasy. The Cavs force fed Andrew Bynum the ball in the post even though Bynum had not established low position. He spun and tossed a pillow soft hook shot off the backboard and in. On the defensive end, Bynum swatted a driving Kirk Hinrich’s floater out of bounds. On the next offensive possession, the Cavs once again fed Bynum and he spun as if to try another bank shot. This time he fired a cross-court pass which was swung to C.J. Miles for a wide open 3 that he swished. Hockey assist for an active Bynum. Speaking of Miles, after draining that wide open 3 he rejected Hinrich on a fast break before stepping into a 3 off the dribble at the other end. He also got a piece of a Noah putback which led to turnover. Bynum added another Duncan-esque bank shot from the left block which is an unguardable shot. Alonzo Gee found himself wide open for 3 after the Bulls defense collapsed on Bynum. And then Bynum swatted a Joakim Noah desperation shot to avoid a 24-second violation. Someone needs to DVR the first 5 minutes of this quarter and just give it to Mike Brown for Christmas – it might keep him warm during the cold, dark months of winter. The Cavs contested everything the Bulls tried and gobbled up all the rebounds/tipped shots to jump out to a 15 point lead midway through the quarter. After a brief stretch of lazy basketball, the Cavs started getting their hands on some of the Bulls’ entry passes and turning them into free throws the other way. Perhaps the play of the entire rebuild came when Tony Snell streaked down the court with a full head of steam and one Kyrie Irving met him at the apex sending Snell to the deck on a very clean foul that Snell definitely “felt”. Both teams scrapped through the rest of the quarter and the Cavs pushed a 5-point halftime lead out to an 11 point lead after 3.
4th Quarter: Luol Deng single-handedly kept the Bulls in the game. Each time the Cavs’ defense would stall the Bulls half-court offense, Deng drained a mid-range jumper. And each time the Bulls would make a run, Tony Snell seemed to have a hand in it. After a no-call on a Taj Gibson travel that resulted in an and-1, the Bulls cut the lead to 2. Both teams battled back and forth until the Bulls converted on 3 easy opportunities. The first: Luol Deng missed the rim on a jump shot and the carom of the glass landed right in the waiting arms of Taj Gibson, who popped it back in. On the next possession, the Bulls ran off a rebound and Gibson got an open layup on a 3 on 2 break. After a rare missed 15 footer from Varejao, Tony Snell drove right past Jarrett Jack to give the Bulls their first lead since the second quarter. Bynum answered with a tough up and under move on Noah to put the Cavs ahead by 1. Kyrie added to the lead with a steal and a nice 1 on 1 finish against Hinrich. Then Bynum forced Deng baseline and he had to give it up or risk falling out of bounds. Waiters wound up with the tough pass and streaked down the court for a smooth finger roll. After another altered shot at the rim by Bynum, the Cavs rewarded the big man with an entry pass. He backed down Hinrich enough to pass out to an open Waiters who hesitated and then took a no no no YES! jumper off a fairly filthy crossover. Luol Deng hit a tough, off-balance baseline 3 to keep the Bulls alive, and with 1 minute remaining, the Cavs clung to a 4 point lead. After a nice defensive stance by the Cavs, Carlos Boozer fumbled a pass to himself, collected, and deposited a layup. Down only 2 with a little over 30 seconds remaining, the Bulls opted not to foul. The Cavs to their credit ran the offense through Bynum, who spun baseline like a small forward and tried a dagger hook shot but it hit the side of the hoop. On the next possession, the same cosmic forces that had a hand in final moments of the Ohio State/Michigan and the Alabama/Auburn games dipped its finger into Lake Erie and blessed the roof of the Q. After a strong drive by Deng to the right side of the paint, the Bulls missed at least 4 (maybe as many as 6) layup/tip shots at point blank range. Eventually, Tristan Thompson collected the stubborn spalding and calmly put the game out of reach with 2 free throws after the commercial break.
-Waiters is becoming a solid catch and shoot bomber from beyond the arc. He drained 2 tonight with his feet set. On the season he is 9-14 on corner 3s and they are all catch and shoot opportunities.
-This was a nice bounce back game for TT. He finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes. His free throws iced the game and the Cavs were +18 with him on the hardwood.
-Alonzo Gee frustrates me with his inability to keep control of the ball when he puts his head down and drives. But he’s sticking his catch and shoot 3s, which is what we asked of him before the season. He also played solid defense on Luol Deng. He finished with a game high +20.
-The Cavs approach tonight was excellent. They really worked to run the offense through Bynum and he delivered. The times the Bulls collapsed on him, the offense opened up beautifully. These guys looked like they really knew what they were doing, swinging the ball to the open man around the perimeter. Dion and C.J. ran around screens and really forced the Bulls defenders to move. The Cavs bigs were active and grabbed rebounds above the rim against a pretty good rebounding team.
-Kyrie played hard at both ends. He looks dejected (maybe winded?) at times but he stepped up tonight. He fought through screens, pushed the tempo to get the Cavs some easy baskets, and attacked the Bulls when the Cavs got into the bonus. He still looks uncomfortable at times, pounds the rock a little too much, and refuses to wait for a screen. That’s being a little nit-picky though. If he plays this hard at both ends, and his shot start falling, that will be enough.
-The story of the night is Bynum, who turned the clock back to 2011. If the Cavs can reliably run an offense through him with good entry passes, it’s going to open up the perimeter for some easy buckets. They need to build off this game.
-Some will look at this game and scoff, thinking the Bulls are not a very good team. But the Bulls played hard and Luol Deng made a ton of tough shots. And the Cavs took the Bulls seriously from the opening tip. They never stopped competing and when the offense went a little stagnant in the second half, their defense played well enough to keep them afloat. I firmly believe that if the Cavs play each and every game like they played tonight they’ll compete for a playoff spot. Good stuff all around tonight.