Let’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.