A harsh reality landed upon the Chicago Bulls Monday night — The Bulls played their best; their best was not good enough. They made the right decisions, they scrapped and fought inside, they played with passion.
And they lost. The final score was 112-102, and that 10-point margin is how much the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter with their superior talent.
Joakim Noah loves to talk, but he keeps backing it up like this on the court and he can run his mouth all he wants. He had a team high 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting, plus pulled down 13 rebounds. He, along with a feisty Luol Deng (who also brought it hard for the night) were at the heart of a Bulls effort inside that included 13 offensive boards and 19 second chance points. They were at the heart of a smaller Bulls front line that helped outscore the Cavaliers 56-38 in the paint.
The Bulls also didn’t turn the ball over (just four for the whole game) and they made the extra pass on offense, and 61 percent of their baskets came off assists.
And they lost. Mostly because of LeBron James.
In the end, the game is about shooting the basketball. The Bulls simply don’t do that well, they haven’t all season — on the season they shot 47.7 percent (eFG%, which counts a bonus for three pointers made, just like the scoreboard does), that was 28th in the league. The only teams that shot worse than the Bulls this season were New Jersey and Detroit. It’s a testament to how hard they played that they overcame that shooting, both Monday night and on the season.
Cleveland, on the other hand, can shoot the ball (third best shooting team in the league). While the Bulls shot 44 percent overall and 31 percent from three in the game, the Cavaliers shot 56 percent and 50 percent from three. Do that and you win pretty much every time.
LeBron had 40 points, 15 of those in the decisive fourth quarter. While he had some plays at the rim — James Johnson, just stay out of the way next time — LeBron hit 9 of 16 on jump shots. He took four three-pointers and made two. When his outside shot is falling, he is inhuman.
But this wasn’t just the LeBron James show — he sat to start the fourth quarter and the Cavs started to pull away without him. Antawn Jamison hit a pretty little floater, Delonte West had an and-1 play. Even after LeBron returned and started doing LeBron things, other guys made plays. Like Anderson Varejao hitting a clutch jump shot late — if you’re Chicago you forced the Cavs to take the shot you wanted them to, and they hit it. What can you do? Also, Jamario Moon was hitting big threes all night long.
Bottom line is Cleveland is better than Chicago. Intellectually everyone knew that going in, but last night was the revelation of that fact on a gut level. The Bulls may pull out a game as the series shifts to the city with the best pizza in the nation, but last night showed us how this series will end.