LeBron James is a good basketball player. What else can you really say? James made sure that the Cavs came back to Cleveland up 3-1; LeBron paced the Cavs with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. His night was insanely efficient; Bron-Bron shot 11-17 overall, 6-9 from behind the arc and 9-10 from the line. The dude was feeling it. Coincidentally, LeBron’s 37-12-11 occured right after Dwyane Wade went nuts and dropped 46 on the Celtics.
Cleveland started the game a little slow. The game was close for the first quarter and well into the second. The Cavs didn’t seem completely engaged; they settled for too many jumpers and didn’t box out nearly enough. The Cavs started the game feeding O’Neal in the post, with mixed results (Shaq finished with 6 points and 7 boards in just 17 minutes). Cleveland led just 24-21 after the first quarter and were even trailing midway through the second.
That’s when James started to impose his will. Midway through the second quarter, James put the Cavs on his back and they never looked back. He scored 12 points over the last six minutes before the half and the Cavs turned a four point deficit (37-41) into a 10 point halftime lead (62-52).
The Cavs brought the hammer down after halftime. The Cavs came out of the locker room and took it directly at the Bulls; Cleveland opened with a 7-0 run that soon ballooned into a 17-6 blitzing. Jamison (12 points) and LeBron (10 points) paced the Cavs, carving up the Bulls defense with excellent passing and movement. It also helped that the Cavs defensive intensity picked up and decided to stop giving up second chance points. James even hit his first ever dagger half-court buzzer beater at the end of the third, giving the Cavs a 99-76 heading into fourth (take that D. Wade!).
LeBron, as masterful as he was, didn’t do it alone. Yes, LeBron had the eye popping stats, but Antawn Jamison finished with 24 points (9-16 FG) and Mo Williams pitched in 19 (6-10 FG, 3-6 3pt). The Cavs had five players in double figures (AP had 12, J.J. had 10). They’re defensive pressure was great, especially after halftime. You could tell that the Cavs actually gave a damn (playoffs!) and that they weren’t going to blow a big lead and let the Bulls back in the game.
J.J. Hickson got some run, at the expense of Big Z. Hickson got his first extended minutes of the post season, scoring 10 points in 17 minutes. I liked the energy Hickson brought off the bench but he had a couple of instances where he forgot to box out. But he did go 3-4 from the field, 4-4 from the stripe and grab an offensive board. He wasn’t great, but he did some nice things. It’s unfortunate that he’s taking Z’s minutes, but I think Hickson’s the better fit against the Chicago bigs.
Coach Mike was decent (or even good). Throughout Brown’s tenure as Cavs coach, Cleveland hasn’t always played the best third quarters. But on Sunday afternoon, the Cavs came out of halftime focused and destroyed Chicago by a count of 37-24. Then in the fourth, when the Bulls cut the 24 point deficit to 19, Brown subbed in LeBron and let King James bury the Bulls. James played five minutes in the final period and record 9 points, an assist and grabbed 3 boards. Brown let’s LeBron sit and maybe the Bulls cut it down to 15 or less and make it a ballgame.
Bulls weren’t terrible but their role players didn’t step up. Derek Rose finished with 21 points and 5 assists, Joakim Noah netted a 20-20 (actually 21-20, with 7 offensive boards) and Luol Deng scored 16. Unfortunately for Chicago, their role players came back down to Earth. Kirk Hinrich (he of the 9-12 FG, 4-4 3pt Game 3 performance) shot 3-13. Brad Miller was ineffective, shooting just 2-8 and missing more than a few layups. The Bulls bench combined to go 7-25 from the floor. For the most part, the Bulls played hard, but they just don’t have the talent to matchup with the Cavaliers (it didn’t help that Derek Rose rolled his ankle either).
End it on Tuesday. Please. Heading home to Cleveland up 3-1, the Cavs are in control of this series; the Bulls simply don’t have the horses to keep up with the Cavaliers when Cleveland is hustling. The Cavs only need to look at the Lakers and the trouble they’re having with Oklahoma City to realize how important it is to wrap this thing up. The way LeBron and company ended the game, I’m thinking that they’ll take care of business in Game 5.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com.