The Cavs showed no signs of rust to start the game. The Cavaliers came out really strong and showed a lot of energy (especially at the defensive end). Offensively, they moved the ball really well and got everyone involved (overall, 27 assists for 39 field goals). The game was tied at 8 when Shaq ran out after contesting a jumper and ended up with a dunk and a free throw and the Cavaliers went on a 22-6 run. They led 32-18 after the first quarter and 56-41 at the half.
The third quarter started out a little too great. The Cavs began the half with excellent ball movement that led to two wide open threes (all initiated by LeBron passing out of the post). The opening threes sparked a quick 10-4 run and it looked like we were in for laugher. But with a 66-45 lead, the Cavs became bored and settled for more of those threes. In Cleveland’s defense, these weren’t terrible shots (they were wide open) but the threes weren’t falling (26% for the game) and the Cavs ended up going scoreless for a good seven minutes. The Bulls trailed 73-60 heading into the fourth and got it to 82-75 with just under six minutes to play, but LeBron and the Cavs were too much. With two minutes to go, James got an and-one in transition which put the Cavs back up 12.
LeBron didn’t have gaudy stats, but he dominated the game. LeBron finished with 24 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 4 blocks and a steal. His blocks are such momentum shifters, it’s ridiculous. LeBron stalks his victims, almost toying with them, letting them think the coast is clear and then WHAM. It was great to see James set up in the post on more than one occasion (though too often he uses it just to draw the double and kick the ball out). James only attempted one three (he missed) but he still could’ve been more aggressive, especially considering that Shaq had gotten the Chicago big men into foul trouble. Overall, James was intense (he and Brad Miller received double techs after a hard foul) and focused.
The rumors were true, Shaq is in great shape. O’Neal had 12 points, 5 boards, 4 assists and 3 blocks in just 25 minutes. He ran the floor, challenged shots, showed off some nice spin moves and generally made his presence known. Shaq is simply too much for both Joakim Noah and Brad Miller, though the refs didn’t do them any favors. Shaq drew a couple of touch fouls on the Bulls bigs, including one where Miller was whistled for getting his face in the way of Shaq’s elbow. He’ll learn next time.
The refs were not good. At one point, Anderson Varejao was called for a foul when Noah shoved him to the ground, but it’s not like the refs were biased against the Cavs. While the Bulls were whistled for a couple of questionable calls while defending Shaq, the refs made ’em up with bogus moving screens and the like. Somehow, Derek Rose was inside the paint for the bulk of the game, yet only came away with two free throw attempts.
Derek Rose is fast. Really really really fast. Rose finished 28 points, 10 assists, 7 boards, a steal and 7 turnovers. Rose was the entire Chicago offense. He routinely got in the paint, beating both Mo Williams and Delonte West (though West made him take those 8-10 foot pullups) and slicing through the defense. Too bad the Bulls can’t shoot threes (1-7 from downtown). Rose can to the lane at will and when he kicks it out, Bulls like Luol Deng take long twos. Say what you will about Vinny Del Negro (hearing him mic’d up and saying things like “play defense, move the ball, play hard” is kinda hilarious) but they surrounded Rose with no bigmen of note and guards who can’t shoot the three. That’s rough. They’re like the early Cavs; LeBron would drive and then kick it out to the likes of Larry Hughes, Eric Snow and Ira Newble. If the games ever get close, the Cavs should put LeBron on Rose to smother him.
Mo Williams had a nice start to the playoffs. I’m sure Mo has been waiting for this since Game 6 in Orlando and he came out strong (starting off 5-6 from the floor). Williams finished with 19 points, 10 assists, 4 boards and um, 5 turnovers. Mo is going to have his hands full with Rose, so he’s going to have to be aggressive offensively. However, the Bulls have Kirk Hinrich on Williams while Rose is hiding/resting against Anthony Parker (awesome, to rest Rose on defense, he guards Cleveland’s starting shooting guard). Mo was the only Cavalier who could find the range from three, going 3-7 from downtown (LBJ was 0-1, West 0-3, Jamison went 1-4 and Parker was 1-6).
Antawn Jamison had a nice Cavalier playoff debut. In his first playoff game as a Cavalier, Jamison had one of his typical 50% shooting (7-14 FG), double-double affairs, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 boards. Jamison ran the floor well (he got a great pass from Mo that led to a layup early in the third) and I liked his defensive effort (4 blocks!?). It’s really amazing how consistent Jamison is, you don’t think much of him throughout the game, then you check the box score and it’s another double-double.
J.J. seems to be the odd man out in the rotation. I liked what I saw from Cleveland’s bench. Varejao (8 points, 15 boards) and West (4 points, 4 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals) are the two main subs and they played well (Jamario Moon and Z rounded out the Game One rotation). West was in control, rebounded really well (he gets his nose in there and crashes the boards) and set up his teammates for easy buckets (he netted Andy a dunk and a finger roll on back-to-back possessions in the second period). Obviously it’s early, but Z didn’t impress me all that much (2 points, 2 boards and an assist in 9 minutes) and I wonder if J.J. should be getting those minutes instead (I think they’re going to need Hickson’s athleticism at some point).
This is really the first time the Cavs have been 100% all season (and we got to see some fun lineups). Shaq, Z and Jamison all suited up together for the first time. For the bulk of the fourth quarter, the Cavs had a lineup of Mo, West, James, Varejao and Shaq (Jamison subbed in for Andy at one point). I love that lineup, especially with Shaq playing so well. I also enjoyed Brown’s bench lineup of West, Moon, James, Varejao and Z. The Cavs are really really deep.
Hey, remember how the Cavs got fat against weak opponents and then got blitzed by the battle tested Magic? Uh-oh. Am I worried that they might have too many days off between series again? Sure. But I’m not sure what the Cavs should do. Should they blow a few games? Not play hard? I mean, if the Cavs are at full go for the full 48, they’ll blow Chicago out. They were obviously quite bored in the second half and they let the Bulls back into the game (of course, if some of the threes fell…). So do you want them growing bored and getting into bad habits or taking care of business and getting extra rest? I’d rather have them get extra rest rather than let opponents hang around and turn blowouts into close games.