In what was billed as a preview to the Eastern Conference Finals a few months from now, the Cleveland Cavaliers got their first win of the season, beating the Chicago Bulls. Maybe there’s something about seeing Derrick Rose, who picked up a worrying ankle injury, that brings the best out of LeBron James.
Less than a week into the new season, this was the closest it comes to a playoff game. The Cavaliers are the new hated team in Chicago, losing their rivalry with Miami, at least a bit, now that James has changed allegiances. Feeling the hate didn’t stop the Cavaliers from dominating and walking away with a 114-108 victory in overtime, as James scored 36 points on 14-of-30 from the field, adding 8 rebounds. It wasn’t the most accurate and efficient of performances from any of the stars, but it was entertaining and eventually satisfying for the star-studded side.
James was a lot more aggressive than he was on his team’s opening night, driving to the basket 14 more times, as the average distance for his shots dropped by almost four feet. He wasn’t great in the finish. After doing very well for most of the game while guarded by Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls made a switch that put Tony Snell on him, limiting James in the crucial moments. But the Cavaliers have a lot more options in the lineup and off the bench to handle on star missing some shots.
There was a big change for Rose, who suffered from a sprained ankle by the end of the second quarter and tried playing despite of it. He finished with 20 points, but his second half wasn’t remotely close to his first. He couldn’t get near the basket, as his average shot distance changed from 9.2 feet per shot to 24.2 per shot, attempting five 3-pointers after picking up the injury. He was limited to only 25 minutes of basketball, shooting 8-of-16 from the field.
One player who is struggling with his accuracy for the Cavaliers is Kevin Love, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, but only on 5-of-17 from the field and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc, finding it difficult through the start of the season to make good on his his impressive numbers of before moving to the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving wasn’t bombarding shots from beyond the arc, but he was only 5-of-17 from the field, finishing with 23 points.
One player who shined when it came to making shots was Tristan Thompson, scoring 16 points off the bench but it looks like Blatt prefers him on the floor during crucial moments. Thompson was difficult to stop near the basket, especially when it came to offensive rebounds and second chance points, finishing the game with 12 offensive rebounds, tying a franchise record. He scored 10 second chance point in the first quarter alone.
While the Bulls have the Cavaliers to 39.4% from the field, they had problems rebounding and shot 45.6% from the field themselves. Kirk Hinrich did a good job with 20 points off the bench, but not having Jimmy Butler means there’s no shooting guard coming off the bench. Pau Gasol finished with 15 points, but Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic scored a combined 0 points. The Bulls are heavily relying on their ability to add from the bench, especially by stretching the floor.
This is just round 1 in what might be a much longer affair this season. The Bulls are slightly hobbled by injuries, but just like the Cavaliers, making everything connect is a much bigger challenge. Not every team is as bad as the New York Knicks, the same Knicks that made the most of a confused Cavaliers team on their home debut. LeBron James wins round 1 against the Bulls, leading his often-missing big three, but a fully healthy Bulls team might mean a very different result.