Backed Into a Corner, Cavs Respond and Beat Bulls to Turn Series Around

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The Cavaliers came out with the Eye of the Honey Badger last night, dismantling the Bulls like an Ikea bookcase, only not with Allen wrenches but a sledgehammer. The joints collapsed beneath the weight of vicious takes by LeBron James and the sides fell in form the force of Shumpert’s 3-point attack. It was like the Bulls arrived at the Q in one of those cursed red security togs from Star Trek. They were just fated to be faded.

The Cavaliers came out aggressive from the start and put the wood to the Bulls until they had more splinter wounds than Pinocchio’s girlfriend. If there’s such as thing as wood-burn, the Bulls discovered it.

Chicago started the game with four turnovers in the first 3 minutes, three of them by Game 1’s first quarter hero Mike Dunleavy, who threw 3 bad passes (around a Rose bad pass), and suddenly the Bulls were down 10-2.

It got worse quickly for the Bulls as the Cavaliers closed the quarter strongly by hitting their last five shots and added six free throws during the last half of the quarter to go up 38-18 at the end of the first.

“They smashed us,” said Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau. “We must respond better.”

The Cavaliers hit 13 of 20 (65%) in the first quarter and held the Bulls to 33% (6 of 18) while forcing 7 turnovers that the Cavaliers turned into 13 points. Everything that worked in the first game for the Bulls didn’t seem as effective in major part due to the Cavaliers unyielding intensity.

Even Perkins was feeling it, providing nine strong 1st half minutes and showcasing the better job the Cavaliers were intent on doing with Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol. In the first game Coach David Blatt felt Rose penetrated too deeply and the rotations were a step slow. Not last night.

On the play above you can see how Shumpert and Perkins stopped Rose from getting into the lane and quickly rotated to the open Gasol to limit his damage. Gasol finished 3-8 with 11 points, four boards and three turnovers.
Everyone was on point, and though they only forced 5 more turnovers the rest of the game, the number of deflected balls, smothered drives and challenged jumpers showed exponential improvement. Indeed, it would be asking a lot to repeat the intensity of that performance, but even 85% looked like it would too much for the Bulls.

“We didn’t recreate the wheel,” said Coach Blatt. “I just thought we were a lot more focused in our coverages and the adjustments that we did make were successful. But that doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem.”

Better coverage and focus is always nice, but the real answer is what it always is and will be: LeBron James. He willed the Cavaliers to victory, and he only really needed a quarter to do it. James finished with 33 points, but got 14 of it in the opening period and another 8 in the second, for 22 by half.

Kyrie credited James’ aggression, “never stopping, never giving the defense a night or a possession off and I feel like he definitely did that tonight.” While Kyrie finished with 21 and had 11 first half points, they were relatively quiet points. Indeed, the lead expanded so quickly that Blatt was able to rest Kyrie for almost 6 minutes in the first half.

The bench did a great job outscoring the Bulls bench until the fourth quarter when Thibodeau emptied his, led by James Jones’ 17 points, including 5-9 on threes. Matthew Dellavedova who probably set a personal record by leading the Cavaliers in minutes with almost 36, added nine points including a nifty floater and two threes to go with NINE assists.

For as much as the bench has been maligned this season, and especially this week, it’s nice to see them step up. Kendrick Perkins didn’t score and only grabbed two rebounds, but was a presence when he was in and he spelled Mozgov who only played six second half minutes. Shawn Marion made a brief appearance as well. Even Joe Harris got off the bench for 75 seconds, leaving Brendan Haywood the only player who didn’t see time.

We’ve talked about just about everyone but Iman Shumpert whose defensive energy was off the charts. He had three steals in the first half during which he played all but two minutes. He drained four big threes and seemed to be a guy the Bulls were daring to shoot – at their own peril.

In the above still you can see that with James off the floor resting the Bulls trapped Irving. He simply passed to Shumpert who drained the open 3. When Irving and James found the other guys open, they hit the shots.

On those occasions when they missed, the offensive rebounding was fierce. As you can see here, James simply wouldn’t be denied and that attitude filtered down to the whole team.

Four Cavaliers – Tristan Thompson (12), James (8), Mozgov and Shumpert (7 apiece) – got 34 rebounds almost singlehandedly outrebounding the Bulls (37) and outrebounding them by 8 as a team. Starting Tristan Thompson ensured that there were lots of tipped balls and no easy rebounds for the Bulls. They didn’t have the energy to match the Cavaliers and that’s ultimately what sunk them.

For the Bulls it’s a matter of figuring out how to get Derrick Rose going. His much-discussed problems playing every other day certainly seemed borne out by his play. Rose was 6-20 and though he finished with 10 assists, had only 14 points. Only Jimmy Butler (18) managed more than that for the Bulls testimony to their troubles and the aggression of the Cavs’ defense.

Rose went for the third consecutive game without getting a free throw. When asked about this Thibodeau paused for a very long time — at least a standing 8-count – before remarking, “I guess he has to go harder. It looked like there was a lot of contact to me.” Expect that deficit to be addressed as the Bulls enjoy their own homecooking and the referee’s benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile we can presumably assume that the lack of a stretch 4 is no longer the narrative it was before the game. The Cavaliers made 46% of their threes (12-26) as Shumpert and Jones ably aped Love & Smith (9-16). Guess there was more floor spacing available than we thought.

For our part, the sets that we outlined a couple days ago never appeared as the Cavaliers simply ran a lot of Kyrie/LeBron pick and roll, and the Bulls just didn’t have an answer. The two created 21 foul shots and made 17, while the entire Bulls team was only 20-25. As we say that should reverse with some home cooking for Chicago.

As for the lineup for Friday’s Game 3, Blatt wasn’t revealing anything though he suggested the ultimate outcome had less to do with who played than how. “It’s not who’s playing but how you’re playing and I felt we played right today,” he said.

We were confident of a Cavaliers victory going into the game and even more confident going to Chicago. Like the Bulls, the Cavaliers had to ensure they split the first two games without J.R. Smith. Now the Bulls may be heading home but they will be facing an even steeper challenge with Smith on the floor and Shumpert playing so well.

We would be surprised if both aren’t in the starting lineup on Friday, though, as we saw tonight, going big doesn’t mean you can’t hit 3s, and you can still go small after that. Tristan may get another start and Shumpert may return to the bench (or Smith may go there) but expect to see a lot of all three at the end of the game.

We will be in Chicago for Friday’s game, and will have a “special” pregame blog for the occasion here on the Scene blog an hour or so before the game. You can also follow us on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and find our game analysis on the Scene Saturday after the game. 

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