The Cavaliers had too much. Too much talent. Too much size. Too much LeBron James. And the Bulls, on the other hand, didn’t have enough.
The final score looks somewhat respectable. The fact that Chicago whittled a 22-point third quarter deficit (68-46) down to only seven (82-75) with 5:35 left in the fourth seems a little hopeful. But the reality is, the Cavs controlled the game and did pretty much whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it.
Just ask Joakim Noah, who was taken to playoff school by Shaq:
Not a bad for a 38-year-old who hasn’t seen a single second of NBA action since February 25.
Shaq — who finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks in 25 minutes — said: “That’s the patented move I’ve been doing for years. That’s the ‘Diesel Truck with No Brakes.’ When I get into that mood people get out of the way because they know I’m in the cab and I don’t have any brakes.”
Replied Noah: I kind of knew he was going to do it at first, so I tried to take it away. Then he waited and waited until a good time. He just knows how to use that 350 pounds.”
Cleveland won the battle of the boards (50-38, including 13 offensive rebounds), the battle of the paint (42-36) and the battle of the stars, as LeBron (24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks) played better than Derrick Rose (28 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists).
Rose had an…interesting game. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rose became the first Bulls player with 25/5/10 in the playoffs since Michael Jordan did it on June 2, 1993. That’s pretty sweet. What’s sour is that it took Derrick 28 field goal attempts to reach his game-high point total. And that his co-game-high assist total was accompanied by a career playoff worst 7 turnovers.
This after he had 7 total turnovers in the three games he played against Cleveland this season.
In the end, what it came down to was this: The Cavaliers were a game-best +19 with James on the floor, while the Bulls were a game-worst -14 with Rose in the game.
I’m not trying to say that plus-minus scores are the ulimate measure of a player’s success. But neither are points, rebounds and assists. And the reality is, the Cavs were at their nearly unstoppable best when LeBron was running the show. Fortunately for the Bulls, Rose isn’t about to give up…no matter what the numbers say.
Said Rose: “It’s going to be a fun series. This is something I live for. I think about it every day, every minute of the day, playing against the best team in the NBA, one of the best players in the NBA. I can say I’m blessed to even be here, and it’s a dream come true. I’m loving that we’re playing against him.”
I’m not sure Luol Deng feels the same way.
However, I’m glad Derrick is maintaining an upbeat attitude. Part of carrying your team is leading by example, both physically and mentally. Rose is trying to do that.
Will it matter this year? It seems unlikely. Cleveland has so much talent. What’s more intimidating is the amount of motivation they have to use that talent.
Make no mistake, things got a little chippy in Game 1. Noah and Anderson Varejao were getting rough with each other. LeBron mixed it up with Brad Miller and exchanged words with Deng. And of course Miller ended up with a bloody face courtesy of a Shaq elbow.
Said Brad: “Just taking an elbow to the damn chin and bleeding. My foul. … It’s not the first one I’ve gotten from him. He’s still Shaq, but I tell all these guys all the time, you should have seen what he was like a few years ago. Every possession underneath, it was bang, bang.”
As K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune observed, in the face of Cleveland’s physical play, the Bulls need to pick up their level of “nastiness.”
Rose agreed: “Definitely. We have to be totally opposite from last game. We weren’t aggressive on the defensive end. We have to have some type of swagger or nastiness about ourselves. We have to come out and start hitting people first — no ‘and ones’ and things like that.”
The Bulls certainly can’t out-talent the Cavaliers. But who knows? Maybe they can outfight them…at least for a game or two.
Noah on Cleveland:
From the Associated Press: “I don’t know about Cleveland, man, there’s nothing going on,” Noah said when asked how he might spend the remainder of a chilly, cloudy day downtown. “It’s bad.”
Here’s a fun little tidbit from ESPN Stats and Information: “The Bulls were one of six teams to hold LeBron James to under 26 points per game in the regular season. One reason for LeBron’s low scoring output is the Bulls’ ability to defend him in isolation situations. LeBron was one of the league’s best isolation players in the regular season, running 661 isolation plays (2nd-most in the NBA) and averaging 0.97 points per play (11th highest in the NBA this season, minimum 150 plays). Despite LeBron’s success, he struggled against the Bulls this season, shooting 8-23 on isolations in three games. This did not improve [in Game 1].”
For the record, in Game 1, ‘Bron went 1-for-7 and committed a turnover on isos.