Streaky game. The Cavs came out strong and built a 14 point lead (24-10). The Bulls then responded with a run of their own, got their lead up to as many as 7 (51-44) before going into halftime up 54-51. The Bulls came out of halftime ready to play (Cavs… not so much) and by midway through the 3rd period, the Bulls had pushed their lead up to 10 (70-60). The Cavs countered with another run to tie the game at 74 before heading into the final period trailing 77-74 (that’s right, they broke even in the 3rd quarter).
Then LeBron scored the first 8 points of the 4th quarter. LeBron came out firing and got the Cavs a 5 point lead before heading to the bench with about eight minutes to play. Then the Cavs actually built the lead while LeBron watched. Gibson had 5 points, Varejao stepped up and the Cavs got up 91-79. I’d like to say that they never looked back… but the Bulls eventually got the score to 96-94 with two minutes to play. I wouldn’t say the Cavaliers closed this game out as much as they held on.
The Cavs offense down the stretch… Le-Iso. To their (and LeBron’s) credit, it worked. But I hope they don’t come to rely on it. James was great, leading everyone with 41 points (again), 13 boards and 4 dimes. He dominated early (scoring 9 points in the 1st) and late (16 in the 4th) and was active at both ends of the floor. His jumper showed signs of life (to say the least) and he made 4-7 from behind the arc (including three of ’em in the final twelve minutes). But while him knocking down treys of isolation looks sweet, they can’t rely on that shot (and offense) to win ball games over the length of the season. I’m worried that since it’s happened in back-to-back games, we might be seeing more of it in the future.
The bigs played really well. Z was effective in the first half, where he scored all 16 of his points on a variety of post moves and spot ups, but he seemed to tire after halftime (Brown rested him for most of the second half, Z finished with 22 minutes). Ben Wallace was also decent, scoring a season high 7 points to go with 4 boards in 25 minutes. And Anderson Varejao… was awesome. Again. Andy scored 13 points (5-8 FG), grabbed 4 bounds, blocked 3 shots and drew lord know how many fouls. With LeBron on the bench, Andy scored 5 points in the key run to help push the Cavalier lead to up to 12.
Maybe the Bulls just got tired…. Rookie coach Vinny Del Negro had an eight man rotation going but two of ’em received less than 20 minutes (and center Aaron Gray played just eight minutes). The Bulls were without a handful of players, including Kirk Hinrich and former Cavaleirs Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes (surprise!).
Cavs needed to guard Ben Gordon better. Sure, the guy is a chucker, but there were too many times where he was left wide open (Nocioni too). Gordon finished 10-19 (though 1-4 from downtown) and he basically kept the Bulls in the game with his 29 points.
Williams and West were so-so. West had about as non-descript game as you possibly can have in 34 minutes, scoring just 2 points (1-4 FG, 0-2 3pt) to go along with 2 boards and a lone assist. Williams finished with 11 points, 7 dimes and 4 steals in 37 minutes. Mo got lost a few times defensively, as both Derek Rose and Gordon got the better of him over the course of the game.
The three man bench was solid again (though I wonder how long they can keep an eight man rotation going). After suffering through some subpar shooting nights, Boobie Gibson bounced back with 8 points on 3-7 shooting (2-3 from trey). Wally was decent as well, going 2-4 from the field and only having one terrible drive (that I can remember). I lied about the three man bench, J.J. Hickson got some PT in the 1st period, scoring 2 points and a couple boards 4 minutes.
Austin Carr had a new word: Bird. Whenever a Cavs player got a man to bite on a pump fake, Carr let loose with his bird comments. And it just kept happening. By the way, if Ty Thomas is ever guarding you, use the pump fake. Trust me. It’ll work.
If there’s one thing to worry about, it’s that the effort isn’t constant. When the Cavs decide to play defense, they can suffocate teams and simply take over games. However, they often drift in and out of focus on both ends of the floor, leading bad offense (long jumpers) which lead to poor defense (not getting back). They also got out-rebounded again, losing the battle of the boards 36-38. The Cavs spent much of the 2nd period bitching to the refs (not without cause, the Bulls ended with 9 blocks but at least 3 were complete bullshit) and they lost their composure. They still won, which is the important thing (and it’s always nice to win when you don’t play your best), but they have room to make improvements.