The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, tie their conference semifinals series with the Chicago Bulls at 1-1 following a 106-91 win that was mostly about their best player playing like there’s no one in the NBA that’s better than him.
And Jimmy Butler getting in the way of LeBron James? That didn’t happen. Not early on, and not later, with James blowing by him with ease, including this dunk. James had no problem with Butler or anyone else guarding him, scoring 33 points to go with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Out of his 13 field goals, only two were hit from outside the paint. The rest? Attacking the rim again, and again, and again.
Derrick Rose still hasn’t gotten to the line in this series. Irving? He shot 10-of-12 in game 2, and overall 21 free throws in this series so far. Joakim Noah, by the way, is shooting 1-of-14 from the line in this series. But interestingly enough, the Cavaliers shot only four more times from the line in this game, and the Bulls (80%) were a lot more accurate than them (69%).
Not that it mattered. The Cavaliers jumped to a 38-18 lead in the first quarter and the closest the Bulls got to from that point on was 11 behind. They kept taking jump shots (especially Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose), hardly trying in any way to attack the basket through isolations, motion or pick and rolls, or at least not enough. Tom Thibodeau finally used the full length of his bench, but that was about playing in a long stretch of garbage time.
Besides James playing the way everyone wants to see from him 100% of the time, there was Kyrie Irving with 21 points, James Jones shooting lights out from beyond the arc, scoring 17, and Iman Shumpert, surprising with his ability to pretty much fill in J.R. Smith’s shoes with his scoring, adding 15 this time and averaging 17.5 in the series.
No Mike Miller mistake this time. He did come off the bench to score 0 points in 13 minutes, but Tristan Thompson was the one David Blatt went with in the lineup and didn’t regret it. Thompson scored just five points but was tremendous on the offensive glass with six offensive rebounds (12 overall) and the Cavaliers were winning by 20 points during his 35 minutes. He doesn’t stretch the floor like Love, but he’s a much better defensive presence, especially next to Mozgov.
Derrick Rose shot just 6-of-20 from the field to finish with 14 points and 10 assists. Rose doesn’t do any one a lot of good when most of the game he patrols the perimeter, looking for open lanes or shots instead of attacking the rim. Jimmy Butler was a lot more aggressive but also for him it wasn’t the best of nights, even if he did lead the Bulls with 18 points. His excellent defense on James in the first game which was mostly James stuck in his own mind didn’t make a difference this time. Nothing made a difference when it came to James attacking the basket, not having it any other way.
It’ll be interesting to see how much this shatters the game plan and approach for the Bulls. Does it shake their confidence? Or do they chalk it off to bad shooting and move on to the next game thinking they still have the Cavaliers where they want them? Remember, Smith is coming back for the Cavaliers in the next game; Irving is a guaranteed 20 or more points, while LeBron James showed there’s no one on the Bulls who can actually slow him down when he decides to attack the basket time and time again.