With a game winning, buzzer beating 3-point shot, Derrick Rose put the Chicago Bulls up 2-1 in their conference semifinals over the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 99-96 win, as LeBron James tries to do a little bit too much while not getting too much help.
The Bulls’ offense is quite simple. There’s not a lot of motion and screens off the ball. Sometimes for Mike Dunleavy, but that’s about it. There’s Pau Gasol getting the ball in the post, there are the pick & rolls with Gasol through Rose and Butler and there are the drives to the basket by the two guards. The rest? Improvisation, and maybe a bit of Joakim Noah getting the ball at the top of the key in some inside outside attempts.
There wasn’t going to be anything complicated for the final play of the game. Seconds after J.R. Smith hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 96-96, Rose got the ball off the inbound pass, hoping to get a shot from the corner. But that route was blocked, so he made his way to the other side, got a nice screen from Taj Gibson and pulled up three feet behind the arc. He didn’t look at all shaken up by the winning shot.
LeBron James was playing like John Wall during the first half and also late in the game, making the Bulls pay for every double team or help on defense with an assist, finishing with 14. But while the shots were falling for the Cavaliers early in the second quarter and sometime during the third, it was a bad shooting day overall for both teams, including James with just 8-of-25 from the field, scoring 27 points and turning the ball over 7 times.
This was the kind of defensive effort the Bulls are expected to put on almost every time they’re out there on the floor. The offense still looks rusty and displaced, but if they make the Cavaliers play that way, including holding Kyrie Irving to just 11 points and doing an excellent job (18 offensive rebounds to 9) to win back their dominance on the glass, it doesn’t matter that they shoot just 37.8% from the field and had no outside threat (consistent, that is) except for Dunleavy.
Rose found his way to make points with 30 in a dominant performance. Jimmy Butler attacked the rim and was excellent in making James uncomfortable with 5 steals and 20 points. Nikola Mirotic finally showed up to score 12 points, giving the Bulls some range and creativity from the bench. It was all about enough for an even game, except for Rose coming up with that shot, which turns out to be the first game-winning shot by a Bulls player in the final 10 seconds of a playoff game since Michael Jordan’s famous shot over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals.
This felt a lot like the first game – the Bulls didn’t do a lot of things right, but James playing a very inefficient game was too damaging for the Cavs to overcome, and it came down to one big shot. Derrick Rose might be inconsistent with his shooting, but he’s not afraid to make up for that with big shots. If the Bulls keep the Cavaliers in check and away from running the floor too often, it’s not a bad bet to rely on him to try and finish games with just one shot. It’s worked before.