Recap: Chicago 98, Cleveland 87 (or out-coached, out-executed, and out-hustled)

January 22nd, 2014 by Nate Smith

Well, that was a depressing game. Cleveland fell to a Chicago team missing Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer, and turned those players’ replacements into all-stars. Cleveland has now lost 14 of the last 16 to the Bulls.

First Quarter: Cleveland missed their first four shots, and struggled to score and contain the Bulls throughout the quarter.  The D.J. Augustin show started early, as he scored or assisted on eight of the first 10 field goals in the quarter. I guess Kyrie decided that he was not going to bother defending the pick and roll tonight. He stayed a good five feet from anyone on defense for most of the night and let Augustin generally proceed unimpeded. Andy kept the Cavs in it with some heady plays: first a 60 foot touchdown pass to Luol Deng for a layup, then an 18 foot jumper, and then a rebound and coast to coast play where he faked a behind the back pass to Kyrie and slammed home a dunk on the break. But Mike Dunleavy’s seven points –unlocked by some really uninspired defense from C.J. — were key to Chicago’s 23-17 lead.

Second Quarter: Taj Gibson scored six of the first nine for the Bulls, out-and-out abusing Earl Clark who, like all the Cavs defenders tonight, left Gibson to help, despite the fact Gibson wasn’t missing jumpers. Clark did get a measure of revenge with a filthy driving right handed dunk. He got smacked in the face and the arm on that dunk, but no whistle came, one of many whistles that the Cavs deserved and didn’t get tonight(Correction: apparently the foul was called. Thanks to commenter, Dutchboy, for pointing it out. Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched that game while high on nutmeg). Then, Kyrie Irving happened.

Kyrie came off the bench and hit a 25 foot three pointer, then another, and then a 27 foot heat check: all in the space of about a minute. Then a couple minutes later, he canned two more.  Kyrie gets into these modes and it’s amazing to watch, but another part of me always thinks, “this is going to lead to problems later…” To recap, he was 5-6 from three in the quarter, and scored the Cavs last 15 points, giving them a 44-43 lead going into halftime.

Third Quarter: Taj Gibson for two…  Taj Gibson for two… “Somebody freaking guard Taj Gibson!” That had to be the rant from Mike Brown after Gibson scored the first six points and forced Brown to call a time out two minutes into the period.  But Tristan Thompson kept drifting away from Taj to help, and Gibson kept hitting. TT really has to get this fixed.  Two games ago it was horrific situational defense against Wilson Chandler at the end of the game, when TT allowed two straight threes.  Against Brooklyn, TT was taken out of the game because Paul Pierce abused him.  In 2014 in the NBA, you can’t be a good power forward and not be able to play defense on jump shooters.  The Cavs need to coach him on how to stay on shooters,  bench him and give Tyler Zeller some minutes, or play Deng at the four.

Offensively, the Cavs were saved by Luol’s march to the free throw line.  He drained five freebies and had seven points in the quarter. Outside of that and a sweet catch and finish by Tyler Zeller, the Cavs offense was pretty ragged. They only scored 18 in the quarter. Meanwhile, D.J. Augustin kept abusing Irving, Taj Gibson kept hitting jump shots, and Mike Dunleavy kept hitting threes to lead to a 71-72 Chicago lead.

Fourth Quarter: Mike Dunleavy swished a three to start it off. The Cavs seemed powerless to stop him shooting jumpers set up by off-ball screens. Dion Waiters heated up for the Cavs and scored eight of the Cavs first twelve, mostly on pull-up jumpers.  After  a couple free-throws, Cleveland cut the lead to 77-74.  Then D.J. Augustin destroyed the Cavs in the last five minutes.

The Cavs gave up field goals on five straight possessions. D.J. — who was cut by Toronto earlier this season — scored or assisted on every one of these. Somewhere in this stretch, Mike Brown abandoned the Kyrie, Dion, and Jack lineup and mercifully traded Deng for Jack.  Despite this, Augustin continued to make Kyrie Irving look like a Washington General on defense.

Crunch Time: The Cavs were still in it when Kyrie and Dion scored on consecutive baskets to cut the lead to 84-81 with four minutes left.  Unfortunately, the Bulls ran Dunleavey off yet another off-ball screen on the left wing.  He curled, and caught the ball at the top of the key. Dion took an absolutely abysmal angle, closing hard on Dunleavey’s left side.  Mike calmly dribbled past Dion and banked in a running eight footer high off the right side glass. Next possession, Dion split the Bulls defenders with his patented spin move drive, and then was the victim of one of the worst non-calls of the season when Taj Gibson clearly nailed him on the arm, and Dion missed the rim entirely.  It was then I knew that the Cavs were screwed. Chicago, then,  ran a simple high pick and roll at the top of the key with Noah and Augustin.  Joakim sliced through four hapless Cavs defenders and scored an easy lay-up on the roll. It looked like an animation from a video game, and pushed the Bulls’ lead to seven.

The real back-breaker came when Dion hit a pull-up to cut the Bulls lead to six with 49 seconds left.  The Bulls came down and Cleveland just stood around not guarding anyone, expecting the Bulls to burn clock.  With no-one playing defense, Augustin passed to Dunleavy on the left wing. Mike coolly canned the easiest three of his career with 38 seconds left.  Game over. Dion, that was your guy…

Of course, this didn’t stop a horrible inbound play where Deng launched a 25 foot brick. Despite trailing by nine with 24 seconds left, Deng decided to give Augustin two more free throws to make it 98-87, Chicago.

Notes: Augustin, Gibson, and Dunleavey scored 27, 26, and 22 points, respectively, off of a combined .756 TS%.  Joakim Noah scored nine, grabbed 18 boards, and dished six dimes, helping the Bulls out-rebound the Cavs 43-41. This doesn’t seem like much, but the Bulls out-shot the Cavs 53% to 38%.  The Bulls did give up 19 offensive rebounds, sometimes three or four on a possession, but it was a struggle for the Cavs to score. The Bulls offense was crisp, and their defense engaged. The Cavs offense was… not.

Kyrie Irving played possibly his worst defensive game of the season, and that’s saying something. It was really hard to tell what the heck he was trying to do in pick and roll defense, as Augustin would come off the screen, and Irving would be 5-8 feet from any offensive player. He had an inspired 26 point performance on offense, with five assists and only one turnover. But his defense made sure that none of his offense mattered.

The initials, T.T., stood for “Truely Terrible” this game.  TT was 3-14 and has to be the league leader in having his shot blocked. He played terrible defense on Taj Gibson, shot terribly, and contributed to terrible offensive spacing.  He consistently clogged the lane, leading to problems for Deng and Andy, and allowed the Bulls to pack the paint. On a crucial possession in the fourth quarter he caught a pass at the left elbow, and instead of shooting a wide open 18 foot J, took three steps in and bricked a push shot. Tyler Zeller really should have gotten more of his minutes.

Luol Deng played a yeoman’s 40 minutes, and scored 11 points, mostly at the line. He’s clearly still finding his way, and the Cavs don’t do him any favors by running plays for him. If the Cavs keep playing like this, he’s a goner. Cleveland will feel especially stupid if Deng goes back to the Bulls.  Don’t discount this possibility.

C.J. was a team worst -16  in 20 minutes of action. His defense on Dunleavey was probably the reason he was benched.

Dion had a decent game. His fourth quarter heroics got Cleveland back into it, but his fourth quarter brain farts also doomed them. It was nice to see him bounce back from a scoreless effort against Dallas to notch 15 points with three dimes.

Jarrett Jack was a team leading +11 through a statistical anomaly. He did have 5 dimes in 22 minutes, but was 0-4 from the field. The scorekeepers seemed really generous with the assists tonight for everyone, but Jack especially. And his defense was as porous as ever.

Did I mention that Tyler Zeller deserved more playing time and more touches.

What can you say about Mike Brown? That his teams seem poorly prepared and motivated? That the Cavs lack a coherent offensive strategy? That his management of minutes seems haphazard? That he was out-coached by Tom Thibodeau, who was starting three bench players? That his team has already quit on him several times this year, including tonight (when Dunleavey sealed the game)? That he doesn’t seem to stick up for his players when they’re getting hammered? I don’t quite understand how any head coach could not pick up a technical that game, given the officiating, and the general a**hat nature of the Bulls. (Seriously, how did Noah not get t-ed up for one of his taunting post rebound screams and staredowns tonight?)

Chicago owns this Cavs team and they know it. Tony Snell, D.J. Augustin, and Taj Gibson have all had the best games of their careers against Cleveland. (Correction: this was the second best game of Augustin’s career — my bad).  God, I hate the Bulls.

Is it too soon to be googling pictures of tanks?