Okay, so let me get this straight: After struggling to beat the Michael Redd-less Milwaukee Bucks at home, the Bulls traveled to Cleveland and beat a healthy Cavaliers team that went 40-2 at home last season and features reigning MVP LeBron James and former MVP (and self-proclaimed Most Dominant Ever) Shaquille O’Neal. And, on the final play of the game, the referees swallowed their whistles when LeBron bull-charged his way to the hoop before running into Joakim Noah and losing the ball out of bounds. Really?!
Luol Deng and Noah provided the end-of-game defense on James. Of that last play, Noah said: “I didn’t feel like it was even close to being a foul. I wasn’t worried because there was no contact at all.”
I have to call shenanigans on that, Joakim. There was plenty of contact, much of it initiated by LeBron in the hopes of drawing the foul. But, after allowing James to partially knock Deng out of his way with a shoulder block, the officials overlooked a little body-to-body contact between the MVP and Chicago’s wild-haired center. Game over.
And what a game it was. It was a classic case of winning ugly…and I’m still not sure how the Bulls did it. If you check out the Four Factors of Winning — Effective Field Goal Percentage, Turnover Percentage, Offensive Rebounding Percentage and Free Throw Rate — Chicago actually lost this one:
And yet, despite the stats, Chicago won. It’s a mind-scrambler. The Bulls — who still haven’t shot as least 42 percent for a game this season — hit a mere 40.9 percent of their field goals, including 22-for-66 on jumpers and 3-for-10 on threes. On the bright side, they went 12-for-19 on layups. But, clearly, their shooting was nothing to write home about. Unless there’s somebody at home you don’t like.
Did the Bulls win this game on defense? Sort of, although they were aided and abbetted by some U-G-L-Y offensive by the Cavs. Cleveland shot 40.7 percent as a team. And, despite the fact that Shaq was 7-for-13 from the field, he may have been Chicago’s best defender. Why? Because the Big Space-Taker consistently clogged the paint, effectively cutting off the full-steam-ahead drives that are LeBron’s bread and butter on the offensive end. NBA historians might remember this is the same problem that dogged the late 1960s, early 1970s Los Angeles Lakers teams that featured Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Note that the Lakers didn’t win a title until one of those guys departed (in this case Baylor, who retired right before the 1971-72 Lakers went on a 33-game winning streak).
A Total Team Effort:
While the Cavaliers were out-of-sync for most of the game, everybody on the Bulls chipped in. Deng shot poorly (6-for-16), but he led the team in scoring (15 points), added 7 rebounds, and played fantastic defense on LeBron (with help from Shaq and, later, Noah). Derrick Rose had his first double-double of the season (14 points, 11 assists), and he was on fire in the fourth quarter (10 points — including a pretty sweet floater with 1:44 left — and 5 assists). John Salmons scored 14. Noah led the team in rebounds (11). Rookie Taj Gibson, who still started at power forward despite Tyrus Thomas’ return, almost had a double-double of his own (11 points, 7 boards). Brad Miller (10 points, 2 steals) and Kirk Hinrich (9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and one gash on the chin courtesy of LeBron) made big contributions off the bench. (And the slow-as-mud Miller beat the Cavs frontcourt off the dribble several times down the stretch.) A seemingly still-sick Thomas even logged 12 minutes, contributing 6 points, a rebound and a block.
And that’s the only way the Bulls are going to win this season: if everybody pitches in, every game, every night. As good as Rose is, he’s no LeBron. Chicago cannot be a one-man team.
Overlooked Stat of the Game, Part I:
The Cavaliers have Shaq in the middle. The Bulls have Joakim Noah. And yet, Chicago outscored Cleveland 38-36 in points in the paint. Again, many thanks to Shaq for helping deny LeBron several chances to take it strong to the cup.
Overlooked Stat of the Game, Part II:
In the final 1:02 — with the Cavaliers trailing by one point — Mo Williams got two shots (a missed three-pointer and a missed 10-footer) and LeBron got one (the final missed layup). Do the Cavaliers want Williams getting the crunch-time shots? Absolutely not. Do the Bulls? Absolutely.
LeBron’s Take on the Final Play:
“It’s a call you think you may get,” James said. “I felt a push from Deng and some contact over the top from Noah. Enough to put me on the free throw line? Yes. But that’s a judgment call for the officials.”
Noah’s Take on the Final No-Call:
John Krolik of Cavs: the Blog: “As for the last play, there were 4 seconds left, and he went to his highest-percentage play: damn the torpedoes and make a hard, decisive drive. The real issue was that Noah was there waiting for him because we’d parked 320 pounds of a guy who can’t shoot or screen directly under the rim, and Hinrich made a nice rotation down to cut off that pass. Shaq shouldn’t be out there in those scenarios. Period. And no, there was no foul on that play-Noah was in perfect position, and LeBron tried to crash into him out of desperation. Not a pretty play, but at least it happens on November 5th. Get the bad ones done early, I suppose. Yeah, there’s the ticket.”