Winning Game 3 wasn’t going to convince anyone that Chicago will win the series, but this game was huge. The Bulls sprinted out to an early double-digit lead behind a huge opening frame from Derrick Rose (15 in the first quarter alone on 6-of-8 shooting; he finished with 31 points on 26 shots, seven assists, and zero turnovers), and then survived Cleveland’s incredible fourth quarter rally to gut out a 108-106 victory.
Rose was hardly the only hero for Chicago, though, as Kirk Hinrich put together one of the best games of his playoff career (27 points, 9-12 FG, 4-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists), Luol Deng was confident and efficient (20 points on 16 shots, and a game-changing charge drawn on LeBron James), and Joakim Noah was as active and productive as you’d expect (10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists). In terms of all-around production, the Bulls aren’t likely to see such a balanced game from this core on many occasions. It’s a bit of an outlier even if it is a pleasant one, and shows just how effective this team can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.
Even the Brad Miller cylinder, as Miller outscored Shaquille O’Neal (10-6), out-shot him (50% for Miller to 37.5% for O’Neal), and outrebounded him (5-4) to boot. This Bulls team looked woefully undersized just two games ago, but Noah and Miller did what they could to deny Shaq interior position and made every shot as difficult as possible. On some nights that won’t stop Shaq from pounding his way inside and dropping a baby hook, but on this one it was enough to frustrate him into being a complete non-factor.
Then there was that LeBron James (39 points on 36 shots, 10 rebounds, eight assists, five turnovers, two steals, three blocks) guy. James showed off an array of jump shots over the game’s first three quarters before taking over Cleveland’s offense in the fourth. I’d say it worked, as the Cavs put up 38 (26 of which were either scored or assisted by LeBron) points in the quarter, with their only shortcoming being their inability to stop the Bulls from getting 29. Chicago’s total is a bit inflated by free throws from intentional fouls (the Bulls had eight free throw attempts in the last minute alone), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cavs came up just short of an incredible comeback win.
Cleveland didn’t do themselves any favors with the way they started the game, as poor perimeter defense (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were getting into the paint at will) and iffy shot selection gave Chicago a comfy lead. It was enough for the Bulls to ride their momentum through the second and third quarters before sealing the win at the line in the fourth. Not that the Bulls were spotless from the stripe when it counted; out of their eight free throw attempts in the final minute, Chicago made just four of them, leaving the door open for a potential tie on several occasions.
Mo Williams (21 points, three assists, three turnovers) hit two three-pointers in the final 30 seconds to keep Cleveland within striking distance, but Chicago scored just enough to win their first game of the series. There was no dagger, just a sigh of relief as Anthony Parker’s half-court heave drew iron.
I’m not sure this game exposed anything about the Cavaliers aside from the fact that they are, in fact, beatable. Not beatable in this series, mind you, but beatable over the course of 48 minutes. The Bulls played a damn fine game and the Cavs merely passable ball, and this is the result we’re left with. Thanks for the great game, Chicago, and thanks for playing, but even this win doesn’t change much of anything.