Game 2: Cavaliers 112, Bulls 102

Those are the eyes of a fourth quarter assassin.

Those are the eyes of a fourth quarter assassin.

The Bulls nearly played a perfect game last night.

No, they didn’t shoot the ball well — 44 percent as a team, including 4-for-13 from three-point range — but they’ve been a limited offensive team all season. (And in some ways, “limited” is being generous.) However, the Bulls scrapped hard enough to make their fans proud.

Chicago reversed the script from Game 1 by taking care of the ball (only 4 turnovers), sharing the ball (25 assists), controlling the offensive boards (13-5), thriving off second-chance points (19), running out in transition (18 fast break points) and outscoring Cleveland 56-38 in the paint.

You think Joakim Noah was fired up for the game? Jo had game-highs in offensive rebounds (7) and total rebounds (13), not to mention a team-high 25 points on 10-for-18 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Noah hit eight layups and two dunks. The dude was flat out awesome.

Derrick Rose had a co-game-high 8 assists to go along with his 23 points (although it took him 24 shots to score those points). Flip Murray scored 14 huge points off the Chicago bench. Taj Gibson almost had a double-double (11 points, 7 boards). And Luol Deng — despite his aches and pains — added 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a blocked shot.

Make no mistake: Deng brought it last night. There were a few times when Luol ripped down a rebound like the fate of civilization depended on it. And there was another very telling sequence near the end of the first half. Deng had what looked like an easy layup swatted by LeBron. After James missed a three-pointer on the other end, Luol grabbed the rebound, sprinted down court and threw down what was, for him, a pretty viscious jam.

Considering his injury history, it’s somewhat understandable when Bulls fans question Deng’s desire. But they shouldn’t. He wants it. He’s not always healthy enough to make it happen, but he wants it. I have no doubt about that.

The bottom line is: The Bulls played very good basketball. And on most nights, the effort they gave would have been enough to beat almost any team in the league, including the Cavaliers.

Unfortunately, LeBron James ruined everything.

LeBron scored a game-high 40 points, including 15 in the pivotal fourth quarter. But what was most demoralizing is how he scored those points. You expect James to be magnificent around the basket, and he was, dunking the ball once and hitting all six of his layup attempts. This included a statement dunk on poor James Johnson and a spectacular up-and-under scooping layup on Noah.

After the game, LeBron conceded his dunk over Johnson was among his all-time best: “It definitely ranks up there. It’s one of the best ones.”

But like I said, you expect that.

What you — and, certainly, the Bulls — don’t expect is for LeBron to sizzle from the outside. During the regular season, James shot only 33 percent from downtown and had an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 43 percent on jump shots. Most people correctly believe the LeBron is the best player in the world, but if there’s a weakness in his game, it’s his outside shooting.

Of course, people said the same thing about Michael Jordan in 1992, and we all know how that turned out. I think Clyde Drexler is still recovering from that revelation.

Anyway, LeBron went 9-for-16 from outside and 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, including one ridiculous trey right in Noah’s face. It was so ridiculous, in fact, that Joakim returned to the scene of the crime after the game to investigate the distance from which James took the shot.

Said Noah: “That’s a long way. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I’m not sure what else the Bulls could have done. What do you do about a hurricane? How do you stop an earthquake? You can’t exactly defend against an act of God, you know?

As for LeBron, he didn’t pull off any Jordan-like shrugs — although he did do a little dance after hitting that three on Noah — but he did address Chicago’s strategy of trying to force him to shoot: “They were telling me I can’t make jump shots. They asked me to shoot a jumper so I did that. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.”

It’s true.

Of course, like I was telling a friend after the game, superstars don’t really decide big games. I mean, LeBron is LeBron. He’s going to score his points, grab his rebounds, dish out his assists. Many times, it’s the role players who swing the outcome.

For example, it’s Jud Buechler shocking the world by going 2-for-2 from downtown in seven minutes off the bench during an intense elimination game. Or, in this case, it was Jamario Moon drilling three back-breaking three-pointers during the fourth quarter. Those threes doomed the Bulls as much as anything James did. I bet Vinny Del Negro is going to be seeing those shots in his dreams.

But there’s a bright side in all this. Despite their limiations, despite their underdog status (or perhaps because of it), the Bulls competed. They didn’t just make the game respectable. They competed. And if they play this way in the United Center, where hopefully LeBron won’t find the rims quite as friendly, maybe they can do what Noah said and shot the world.

Noah on Cleveland…again:

It’s safe to say Joakim’s not-so-fuzzy feelings about “The Mistake On The Lake” haven’t changed.

Joakim Noah, quote machine, Part I:
“We were real focused at the beginning and we played with poise,” Noah said. “It just came down to them hitting big shot after big shot. LeBron’s pretty good. He’s actually a very good player.”

Yeah. I’d say LeBron’s pretty good.

Joakim Noah, quote machine, Part II:
This one might explain Jo’s reluctance to shower praise on “King James.”

“LeBron’s hitting unbelievable shots,” Noah said. “Yes, it’s tough. But we’ve got to play them again, so I don’t want to be up here and give LeBron all this credit. Yeah, he played an unbelievable game. It’s tough right now. I hate to lose, so I’m a little frustrated by that. But we’ll be ready to go come Thursday.”

Bonus stats:
Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information: “Entering Monday, LeBron James failed scored 30+ points against the Bulls and shot better than 50 percent in one of four meetings, including the playoffs. A key was the Bulls ability to contain LeBron on Isolation Plays. In the previous four games, they held him to 27 points on 37 plays or 0.73 points per play. His regular-season average vs all NBA teams on points per play was 0.97, which ranked 11th in the NBA. This all changed on Monday as LeBron dropped 40 on the Bulls, 26 of those 40 coming on Isolation Plays.”

Here are the numbers. ‘Bron ran 16 isos, going 11-for-14 (78 percent) and scoring 1.63 points per play with a scoring percentage of 75 percent. In this case:

Plays = Total number of FGA, TOs and trips to the free throw line (except for and-1s).

Scoring percentage = Percentage of plays where at least one point is scored (count of plays were one point or more was scored / total number of plays).

In other words: When LeBron wanted to score, he scored.

Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos

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20 Responses to Game 2: Cavaliers 112, Bulls 102

    Future Guy April 20, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    In the fourth quarter, LeBron did what Jordan and Bird used to do, he bent the game to his will. He decided the Cavs were going to win, and he made it happen. Still, I like how the Bulls kept fighting even when it became obvious that they were not going to win. The Celtics would quit in that situation.

    Also, what the hell was James Johnson doing wearing white shoes? The Bulls do *not* wear white shoes in the playoffs! Does he *want* them to lose?

    Spike April 20, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Kirk, we need you to score dude.

    I think he’s doing a good job on the defensive end, but his scoring pretty much disappeared in the two playoff games so far…

    I hope his offensive production picks-up a bit in the UC for Game 3 and 4, (and 5, 6, & 7).

    I might be wrong, but just like last season’s playoffs, it seems as though Noah and Rose are growing and becoming better during the games, and I believe they will keep growing.
    With that in mind, I feel confident that the Bulls will win Game 3 (but then again, they got blown away last season by the Cs in the 1st playoff game at the UC… Hopefully that won’t happen).

    Go Bulls!!!

  3. Lindyj5 April 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    As disheartening as losing this game was, after the game I realized that there was nothing in particular I could be upset about. The Bulls played an EXCELLENT game. Loved the intensity that Noah brought. It almost made me wonder if he just stirred things up to give himself added motivation. Here’s hoping we can keep up the energy and steal a couple in Chicago.

  4. Mahmoud April 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    In the words of Dwayne Wade, “The series doesn’t start until you win on the other team’s home court.” The Cav’s are supposed to win at home. Now it’s just a matter of us doing the job at home.

    Brad S. April 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Damn, …so this is what the rest of the league felt like when we had Jordan. This kind-of sucks!

    hemlock09 April 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    @Brad S., hahahahaha. Yes, and to a lesser extent, that’s how Warriors fans like myself have felt playing Kobe when he’s on. There’s just not much your team can do when a super-athlete gets focused. It’s like when Usain Bolt was laughing at the end of his 40 yard run while he was breaking the world record, and the other runners just wanted to die. What can you do?

    Bobby April 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    I’m still blaming Vinny for this one. Maybe not the whole loss but for most of the fourth quarter at least. When one of the best players in the world hits two in a row from about the same spot, his defender should deny the ball from him. When he hits another, you call timeout in the fourth quarter. When he does it again and you still aren’t denying him the ball then you have proven in about three minutes how ridiculous it is for you to be coaching above the high school level. Did Lebron make some nice shots? Hell yeah. But did Vinny do anything to break his rhythm? Nothing whatsoever. Vinny’s only adjustment was “Ok he’s making well contested shots over Luol Deng. I guess I should put the shorter defender in Hinrich on him so he can have a little more space to shoot. That’ll slow him down.”

  8. TexasBullsFan April 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Yeah, Bobby, it’s Vinny’s fault that LeBron is the best player in basketball. How do you deny LeBron the ball? I’ll give you a hint, ok? You can’t deny LeBron when he wants the ball. YOU CAN’T. That’s just the fact of the matter. He hit some highly contested jumpers in the Bulls eyes. It’s not a rhythm thing, it’s LeBron being the best in the game. Other than instructing his player to simply run through LeBron and tackle him on the jumper, there was nothing Vinny could do. That’s how Jordon was, that’s how Kobe was, that’s how Bird was. That’s how it works when you’re the best player in the game. People can be guarding you, putting a hand in your face, and you’re still going to hit the shots.

    Bulls played their hearts out, but there was no way they could win once LeBron got hot.

    Oh, and if you could “deny LeBron the ball” in the 4th quarter, why don’t we do that for 48 minutes? I mean, hey, LeBron never getting to touch the basketball spells auto-win for the Bulls.

    Bam! April 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Since everyone’s talking about the game, I’ll make a little off-comment.

    Why are there people talking about wanting LeBron on the Bulls? With the kind of conflict between Noah and LeBron, it wouldn’t work out. In the Bulls situation we have now, would you rather Noah or LeBron? I’d take Noah in a heartbeat. Anyway, what Chicago needs is a nice juicy 3-point shooter. With a juicy 3-point shooter (preferably 2, but I’d take 1 over none), we would be a scary team to play (I hope). Someone like Joe Johnson…

    If only we could get JJ and then clone him…
    that would be nice…

    matthew April 20, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    In the Bulls situation we have now, would you rather Noah or LeBron? I’d take Noah in a heartbeat.

    Completely insane. Completely. Insane.

    Brad S. April 21, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    BTW – This Noah v. Cleveland thing is hillarious. Everyone in Cleveland might hate him right now, but I would bet that his stock just went way up nationally. Sometimes I cringe when athletes say things like that, but Joakim is no thug. When asked if he regretted saying it, he gave a pretty good arguement that most people in the room probably were hard-pressed to deny. By next year, Noah might be a bona-fide star in this league and a real players player. If I were a FA, I would want to play with him.

    Jim April 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    “Everyone in Cleveland might hate him right now, but I would bet that his stock just went way up nationally.” BTW

    You’re kidding. After Noah’s rant, one national commenter’s only comment was “Wow.” It wasn’t just the words, it was the tone of his voice and his expression. He came across as an immature, sullen and rude teen-ager. Hardly the type of personality with which the top-tier free agents want to play. Noah isn’t doing the Bulls any favors for this summer.

    Brad S. April 21, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Okay, Jim. Do YOU think Cleveland is cool?

    inkybreath April 22, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    Jim, to be fair, you quoted one national journalist. The reference that I heard was positive, I think it was the broadcast. They talked about how it gave Noah an opportunity to shoulder all the talk and the pressure. It is also a subtle way to mentally battle this juggernaut of a team. You call him immature, sullen and rude, but I smell a hint of bias. He basically just spoke in a normal, talking-to-a-friend, conversational voice. What some like about his comment … that is was just plain real. He did not puff up his chest and try and act like he thought he was supposed to … he just spoke. I, personally, appreciate when I get to see the person. You want them to be polite and reverent. I want (the people on my team) to be themselves, comfortable and ready to play. He is all that, in my opinion. He backs up his casual nature with mad intensity on the court for every minute that he gets.

  15. TexasBullsFan April 22, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    Do you really, honestly think that any players, from Cleveland or otherwise give a damn what Noah thinks about a city? Do you? If he said, “I don’t like Tokyo, I think it’s boring” would you be saying what a petulant teen he is? What if he said, “I don’t like Portland, Oregon”?

    Fact of the matter is this: he’s trying to get into people’s heads. He’s deflecting the pressure of the series onto himself. I really don’t think it will work, because no player in the NBA cares about the city they live in more than any other. You can build a $20M house and party in any city in America.

    The only people who are concerned with this are jock-sniffing sports fans who think every opinion that an athlete comes out with is something to be regarded with holy reverence and brain-dead sports talk-show hosts with nothing else to dissect and analyze. Give it a rest, who really cares what Jo thinks about Cleveland.

    Bobby April 22, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    The term deny the ball in basketball doesn’t mean you aren’t going to let him get the ball at all. Obviously if they really want to get him the ball they will. Denying the ball means stand in the passing lane. Make him catch the ball somewhere further from the elbow. Make them take more time off the shot clock and work to get him the ball. They did play great defense once he got the ball in his hands but they weren’t making it difficult for him to get it. Obviously if Lebron is going to make shots like that then that isn’t Vinny’s fault. What is completely Vinny’s fault is his continuous failure to make adjustments. Just make it more difficult then catching the ball on the elbow. There also was never a double team. Even the guy guarding whoever was passing it to Lebron could have been overplaying his side of the court to prevent a pass. No adjustment other than to put a shorter defender on him.

  17. Ryan April 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I hope that the Cavs – especially Moon – get a false sense of confidence in their 3 point shots. Take away two of Moon’s threes and put in one for Brad (0-2) or Murray (2-6) and we would have been in a prime spot to steal a win in Cleveland. I am extremely happy with the game.

    Bulls fans have been screaming for a scoring big, but we have a 20-10 guy we have been watching for 1 1/2 years now – Noah. I wouldn’t mind throwing another big (Boozer, Amare, or Bosh) in the mix, but I want a shooting guard that plays defense. After watching the last few months, a SG is our top need – Bulls already among the league’s best in rebounds and aren’t too shabby with points in the paint. Another big would be nice, but should not be the top priority… then again if we could get Lebron, he would be a priority too – Dude colder than a polar bear’s toenail.

    Brad S. April 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    Yeah, Ryan. I am starting to move towards that camp as well. Not that I would turn down a scoring big, as Joakim has not yet proved to me that 15-20 points are a consistant part of his game. However, I cannot deny that him and Taj are a nice pair inside. With a little work on both of their offensive games, and a sharp-shooting SG or Sf, the spacing might be enough to turn a Bulls weakness to a strength.

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