NBA Playoffs: Zone defense ain't no thing, Cavs coast to a Game 1 win over Bulls

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Thumbnail image for Jamison_Game_Bulls.jpgLet’s not pretend that the Bulls’ performance in this game was somehow significant; after building an early double-digit lead, the Cavs worked, and held, and coasted, until a temporary hiccup against the Bulls’ zone defense made this game a bit closer than it should have been.

Does that mean Chicago is somehow going to make a series out of this thing? Not bloody likely. As soon as Cleveland had the chance to regroup during a timeout, their execution against the zone was much improved: they found holes to shoot from mid-range, hit the offensive boards, and made quick cuts to the basket through the heart of the zone.

That’s not to fault the Bulls’ effort, because Chicago was very focused. They’re just not all that talented, and when forced to match up against the likes of LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, the Bulls struggled.

Cleveland focused on going through Shaq (12 points on nine shots, five rebounds, four assists) early in the game, where he put a spotlight on Joakim Noah’s inability to contain him one-on-one. Noah just doesn’t have the size to deny O’Neal position in the post, and while he worked to contest Shaq’s shots, his lack of size (and girth/strength, especially) was a bit of a disadvantage. Cavs fans should be pleased with Shaq’s first game back from injury, even if it’s going to take a few games to get O’Neal properly re-acclimated to the pace of the NBA game.

LeBron James twiddled his thumbs to score 24 points while grabbing five rebounds and throwing in six assists for good measure. The guy doesn’t just make the game look easy, but also makes racking up stats look easy. He let the offense work through Shaq at times, made a few passes, and let let the Cavaliers offense establish his own flow.

That may not make for a spectacular individual performance now, but what about later in the playoffs when the production of Antawn Jamison (15 points, 10 rebounds) or Mo Williams (19 points, 10 assists, five turnovers) matters much, much more? Cleveland will be thankful for games like this one.

There was the Cavaliers’ turnover problems (18 in the game to 14 for the Bulls). Make a note. It could have just been a few over-anxious trigger men on the fast break, but Cleveland was a bit sloppy with the ball.

Derrick Rose (28 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, seven assists) was as spectacular as advertised. He wasn’t as efficient as you’d like to see him be (how could he be with this team against Cleveland’s defense?), but his array of floaters and runners was absolutely beautiful. It’s days like this where you see what Rose could be if his mid-range game was a bit more complete: he gets right to the basket, nails a step-back jumper, and hits an intermediate floater, creating a can’t-win proposition for the D. If and when this cat develops three-point range, the entire league should be on notice.

Luol Deng is better than the Luol Deng that played today. He defended LeBron fairly well at times, but his decision making on offense was nothing short of atrocious.

Unfortunately, the day’s events indicated that the rest of the series will proceed as planned. The Cavs will have plenty of time to tweak their offensive approach against the Bulls’ pesky zone, the Bulls aren’t likely to grow out of their significant size disadvantage (they lost out 38-50 on the boards), and Cleveland’s depth (Anderson Varejao outrebounded the Bulls’ reserves 15-4 on his own) isn’t going anywhere. A temporarily successful gimmick defense does not a series make, no matter how impressive Derrick Rose looked.

 

2017 NBA playoffs have been historically uncompetitive

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
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The NBA Finals so many wanted to see – Cavaliers-Warriors III – is here.

At least it will be.

Today is the first of six off days before the 2017, which begin June 1 in Oakland.

The lengthy delay is the product of an underwhelming postseason featuring few competitive series and numerous blowouts.

Golden State swept its way through the West, and Cleveland dropped only one game (to the Celtics in the conference finals) while winning the East. There have been only two Game 7s, but considering the magnitude, neither felt that compelling. Blake Griffin‘s injury undercut the Clippers against the Jazz, and Celtics over Wizards felt inevitable with home teams winning each game of the series. Between, there have been several lackluster games and series.

There have been just 74 playoff games this year – the fewest before the Finals since since the NBA instituted a best-of-seven first round in 2003:

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That’s 74 of a possible 98 games – 76%, the lowest since 1999 and seventh-lowest ever.

Even if the Finals go seven games, it will be the fewest games in a postseason since 2007. If the Finals go five or fewer games, it’ll be the shortest postseason in this playoff format.

And it hasn’t just been quantity. The quality of games has been lacking, too.

Though there were more blowouts last year by nearly any measure, the 2017 postseason’s average margin in pre-Finals games (13.5) is fifth-highest all-time and second-highest since 1959 (behind 2016, 14.2).

Combine the two factors, and these are the drabbest playoffs in nearly 50 years. Here’s each postseason plotted by average margin in pre-Finals games and percentage of possible games pre-Finals:

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This probably just confirms what you’ve seen: The 2017 playoffs have been in a rut.

We’re all counting on the Cavaliers and Warriors to salvage this postseason, but considering how deep the hole is, anything less than an epic Finals probably won’t cut it.

Kyrie Irving crosses over Avery Bradley, hits 3-pointer (video)

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Avery Bradley got around one screen then, thanks to Kyrie Irving‘s excellent ball-handling, lunged at another that wasn’t coming as Irving hit a 3-pointer.

LeBron James beautifully pass-fakes, makes layup in transition (video)

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LeBron James is a treasure.

Shaquille O’Neal’s big toe is seriously jacked up (PHOTO)

shaq o'neal
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Remember how we we all freaked out when we saw pictures of LeBron James‘ feet back in 2013?

You probably didn’t want to be reminded that it existed, but it does. Still. And apparently jacked up feet is the consequence of a lifetime of playing professional basketball. Once can only assume it has something to do with tight shoes and constant, hard changes of direction in said tight shoes.

We got yet another vision of what basketball shoes can do to feet on Thursday when TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal showed off his, er, little piggies.

Much to the horror of the Internet in general, it was Shaq’s right big toe that took social media by storm. Mostly because it’s not even close to pointing in the right direction.

I’m going to show you what it looks like. Be forewarned, it might just be NSFL.

Via Twitter:

Oh. Oh … why?

Social media reacted appropriately and proportionately:

Shaq did have issues with that toe during the course of his career, and at one point it was so bad that he had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from the toe in 2002.

That still doesn’t explain why it’s all over your TV and the Internet, but here we are. I am sorry.