If the gods and basketball and the NBA are good, we will get to see the Cleveland Cavaliers face off against the Chicago Bulls in a playoffs series, because the mere presence of LeBron James brings out the best and worst from most of his rivals, but something almost magical happens when it’s against the Bulls.
Right now, as long as Derrick Rose is out, it doesn’t seem like a fair contest. The Cavaliers won 99-94 but it wasn’t that close, allowing the Bulls to get nearer in the final minutes of the game. LeBron James picked up his first triple double of the season, scoring 20 points to go with 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 27 points and J.R. Smith finished with 24, taking all of his 17 shots from beyond the arc, making 8 of them.
Some of his shots were truly impressive, including one in which he fell into the first row and looked like he was actually getting to watch the shot go down with some fans. With the Cavaliers giving their best impression of a playoff game, playing just eight players, Smith got to be on the floor for 43 minutes. Anything to secure that second seed in the East.
Kyrie Irving himself had a special moment by hitting a shot form well beyond half court after an inbound. Yes, some luck was part of the equation in the Cavaliers’ win, but mostly it was an offense the Bulls struggled slowing down, and their own offense not exactly finding a way to score consistently. The Cavs didn’t shoot lights out, but when you have such a big advantage in controlling the ball and 3-pointers, it’s hard to keep up without shooting a lot better than 45%.
Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 24 points while Aaron Brooks scored 17 and Jimmy Butler added 16. Pau Gasol needed one rebound to pick up his 51st double double of the season, while Nikola Mirotic scored 12 off the bench. In a game that was excellent simulation to how things will be in the playoffs (these teams are destined to clash in the conference semifinals according to the current standings), the Bulls saw they need to do much better.
The love between Joakim Noah and LeBron James continues to flourish. However, Noah should know by now that his brand of trash talk might get under James’ skin a bit, but it doesn’t actually make much of a difference. He doesn’t like Cleveland and James, be it as a Miami player or a Cavalier, but unless he finds a new word or way to really throw James off his game, maybe Noah should focus his energy on other things, like how to shoot more, taking just three shots in the loss (making all three).
Rose might be back within the next week, which means getting a game or two of throwing off the rust before the playoffs begin for him. Rose hasn’t been in a postseason series since April 2012, when he led the Bulls to a win over the Philadelphia 76ers but tore his knee ligaments at the end of that game, leading to the mess he’s been in for the past three years.
Last but not least is Kevin Love. It’s not all about 3-pointers with Kevin Love. But still, when LeBron James goes up in the air with no one being able to stop him, it’s a tad more impressive. Love scored 11 points on 4-of-12 from the field, remaining a player who hardly tries to get shots off inside the arc. Yes, he’s an excellent 3-point shooter, but limiting him to just being a spot up shooter is wasting his offensive talents. Blatt can do more with him.