After one night of taking it easy, the NBA playoffs are back, with both the Cleveland Cavaliers with game 3 in both series that are tied at 1-1: The Cleveland Cavaliers facing the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets playing the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Cavaliers, following a 106-91 win over the Bulls in the previous game to tie the series, are getting a major reinforcement in the form of J.R. Smith. This means Iman Shumpert hitting the bench, because it’s hard to believe the Cavaliers will risk playing a small lineup that doesn’t include Tristan Thompson to start with against the Bulls’ frontcourt, even if it hasn’t been playing as expected so far.
The minutes of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson on the floor have been difficult for the Bulls to swallow, getting crushed on the offensive glass. I think they can live with LeBron James doing whatever he wants on the floor (although forcing him to take more jumpers would be nice) and even Kyrie Irving scoring his usual numbers, but when it comes along with getting crushed on the boards and even getting outplayed by bench players, it’s hard to see them doing something exceptional in this series.
So where do the problems begin and end for the Bulls? Maybe their bench play is the key to all of this. The Bulls were supposed to be the deeper team in this encounter, but except for some good minutes from Taj Gibson, have been getting nothing from their bench. Nikola Mirotic isn’t the player we saw in March and April, an injury limiting his play and minutes. Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks seem to be place keepers when they’re on the floor. That puts immense pressure on Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler as they head back home to be almost flawless in their minutes. They’ll probably have to be to win this series.
Rockets vs Clippers
The nice thing about the Los Angeles Clippers is that they manage to stir powerful, hateful, resentful emotions on the other side, even if they aren’t playing the Thunder, Warriors or Lakers who have their personal beefs with them. Matt Barnes said some bad words to James Harden’s mother, and now is enemy number one for the Rockets, who managed to level the series with an endless parade to the free throw line.
Unlike a lot of other Rockets games this season, it wasn’t the case of the referees simply helping them out while being a lot less lenient with other teams. The officials called a foul on pretty every little contact in or around the paint. The Clippers simply had a more difficult time getting in there, especially once Blake Griffin ran out of gas. Dwight Howard and James Harden alone shot more free throws than the Clippers.
Besides shots from the line, which are major debating point in this postseason and will lead to some changes by the owners and the league after the playoffs are over, the Rockets are getting outplayed despite not facing Chris Paul, who is still questionable. James Harden is taking bad shots, Terrence Jones is a huge weak spot in the lineup. It’s as is the Rockets know they don’t have to give 100% on both ends of the floor and it’ll still be probably OK.
The Clippers, right now, can’t afford to have Griffin on his own. Redick has to be sharp, and the same goes for Barnes. More importantly, Austin Rivers needs to stop making idiotic mistakes as if he’s still a rookie, while Jamal Crawford has to somehow dig deep inside of him and come to terms with the fact that he’s an irresponsible player. When he’s the guard that gets the most touches in a game for the Clippers, he simply has to be something different.