If I’m being completely realistic, it was probably too much to ask for this particular Bulls team — still without starter Tyrus Thomas and key reserve Kirk Hinrich — to beat this particular Cavaliers team in Cleveland for a second time this season.
It was simply a bad matchup on paper, and a worse matchup in reality. NBA players are a proud breed, and the great ones are even prouder. Back on November 5, LeBron James didn’t really play up to his typical ultra-lofty standards. Moreover, he lost the ball at the buzzer on a potentially game-winning drive. (For his part, James thought he was fouled.) Players like LeBron don’t forget about losses like that. They store the memory for motivation, and they almost alway exact a little revenge later, especially against lesser teams. Which, unfortunately, the Bulls are…for now.
The Bulls were actually pretty competitive for the first two quarters — the halftime score was Cavs 47, Bulls 46 — but Cleveland started pulling away in the third quarter as LeBron imposed his will: hitting jumpers, earning foul shots, dishing to his teammates. LeBron finished with 23 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds and an unspecified number of hip-hop dance moves. And that last “stat” got one of the Bulls pretty fired up…
Here we “Jo” again:
Joakim Noah had a rough night. He missed one layup and had another stuffed by Jamario Moon. He bricked a couple jumpers from about 17 feet out. (Uhm, why were you taking 17-footers, Jo?) He finished with 7 points (2-for-7), 10 boards, 3 assists, a steal, a blocked shot and a game-worst plus-minus score of -18.
Look, Noah may not be a great player yet, but he’s got almost as much pride as LeBron James. He doesn’t like losing, and he doesn’t like having a loss rubbed in his face, either intentionally or unintentionally. Which is what happened last night when LeBron started dancing a jig on the Bulls’ grave:
Noah didn’t like that. Not one bit.
I’m not sure what Hubie Brown was so confused about. Back in his coaching days — particularly when he was coaching the New York Knicks in the mid-1980s — Hubie would have gotten pretty upset if, say, Larry Bird had started dancing all over the place during the fourth quarter of a 20-point Boston Celtics blowout. I don’t blame Joakim for being angry. He should have been. All of the Bulls should have been. It was an embarrassing loss, and the fact that LeBron was dancing all over the court was symbolic of how easily they swatted the Bulls down in the second half.
Said Noah: “When you’re losing the way you’re losing and guys are rubbing it in your face, dancing and all that. I have a lot of respect for LeBron. It’s just a frustrating situation. … It stinks to lose, man. That’s the toughest thing, we can’t compete for 48 minutes. We’ve got to find a way to win games because this losing thing is not a good look, man, it’s just not. It’s not what anybody in this locker room expected. This losing thing is really frustrating.”
It sure is.
As for LeBron, he said he was just having a good time. “It’s nothing against the Bulls and it’s nothing against Joakim or none of those guys. It’s nothing about showboating on a team. I’ve seen it happen all last year. I think he [Noah] was more frustrated about the way he played as an individual. He didn’t help his team win.”
Of course, this is the same guy who thinks thinks “winners” don’t have to display good sportsmanship after tough playoff losses. So of course he’s not going to think anything about busting a move in the face of his fallen opponents. Hey, he’s King James, right? I guess kings get to make up their own rules for oncourt behavior.
But Joakim doesn’t have to like it.
Pain in the paint:
Same old story. Cleveland pulled down 17 offensive rebounds en route to a 24-10 advantage in second-chance points. They also and outscored Chicago 46-20 in the paint. Of course, credit goes to the Cavaliers’ defense, which either kept the Bulls out of the painted rectangle or forced a tough shot at the basket.
Here’s some extra bad news courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information: “When the Bulls struggle with their interior defense, it has hurt in the win column — this season, Chicago has allowed 38 points per game in the paint in its seven wins, compared to 47.4 paint points per game in its 10 losses.” Yep. That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all season.
By the Horns reader Mike also wrote in with some good points: “We have no one who can get calls in the paint. Also, every time someone goes into the paint, there are 2-3 defenders collapsing. This is the biggest problem with the offensive system. Rose and Salmons are both penetrating slashers, but since we don’t have anyone to spread the floor, the shots that both players are getting in the paint are low-percentage. Derrick’s most reliable shot is the one where he bursts through the lane, leaps and tosses the floater. He’s good at it, but here’s my issue: it’s not a “downhill” attack. He’s slashing across the lane at more of an angle, rather than directly at the basket. It’s a less-aggressive move that fundamentally avoids contact, rather than seeking it. This shot and the 18-footer feel like they make up about 75% of derrick’s shots. If he’s going to thrive, those shots shouldn’t top 50%, with the other half coming on “downhill” drives all the way to the basket for lay-ups/ fouls, and back-cuts for lay-ups and dunks.”
Player of the Game:
Taj Gibson was on fire in the first quarter, during which he scored 11 of his team-high 14 points (7-for-14). He also snared a game-high 13 rebounds. Of course, it’s probably a bad sign that the Bulls got their best performance out of a rookie who, if Tyrus Thomas hadn’t gotten hurt, might not be seeing much playing time.
Rose had 13 points and 7 assists in only 29 minutes. He went 5-for-16 from the field, and 13 of his shot attempts were jumpers…of which he hit three. Look, I understand why Derrick would like to play with LeBron — who wouldn’t — but right now the Bulls need Rose to play a little more like LeBron. Rose is the team’s superstar. He has to be his absolute best for Chicago to compete against the best.