Game 4: Cavaliers 121, Bulls 98

Sad bench photos are never a good sign.

Sad bench photos are never a good sign.

A few years ago, I went to a local court to play pickup basketball with a group of friends. In our first (and what turned out to be our only) game, we got matched up against a team composed of skinny high schoolers. Admittedly, we went into the contest assuming an easy victory. After all, we were older, stronger and generally more talented than that squad of young upstarts.

As it turned out, they took it to us and eked out a two-point victory (in most pickup games, you have to win by two). There were so many people waiting to play, we never got back onto the court. The loss made me and my friends so angry, we returned the next week for a rematch. Now properly motivated, we overwhelmed those kids with our size and strength, running them off the court and leaving no doubt who the better team was.

That story popped into my head while I was watching Game 4, because that’s what it looked like: A battle of men against boys.

Going into this series, the Cavaliers could probably be accused of taking the Bulls lightly. Heck, everybody was. And why not? The best team in the league versus the worst team to make the playoffs. Of course, doing so was to underestimate the resolve of a Chicago team that had many, many chances to give up over the course of the regular season. But they never did, and they brought that never-say-die spirit into the postseason.

Thus their shocking Game 3 victory.

Sometimes something as simple as a win can awaken a sleeping giant. And I’m not talking about LeBron James. Sure, he  had his fifth career postseason triple-double — 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — but he’s been an uncontrollable monster all series. No, I’m talking about the rest of the Cavaliers, who as a group decided it was time to put the hammer down.

And that’s what they did.

Antawn Jamison scored 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting, sometimes making a mocker of Luol Deng’s defense. Mo Williams (19 points, 6-for-10, 3-for-6 from downtown) and Anthony Parker (12 points, 4-for-7, 2-for-3 on threes) were on target from outside. And J.J. Hickson (10 points, 3-for-4 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line) gave Cleveland a boost off the bench.

But even though the Cavs finished the game with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 60 percent, they didn’t win this one with offense. I know that sounds crazy considering they scored 75 points over the second and third quarters, but in reality they won it with defense.  Cleveland upped their intensity on D, using their superior size and roughing up a Bulls team that simply doesn’t have the size to rough them back. The Cavaliers put up a wall around the rim, forcing Chicago to miss 16 of their 30 layup attempts. They also aggressively put hands into the faces of the Bulls’ shooters, who went 19-for-60 from the outside.

Derrick Rose was 3-for-10 from the outside and 9-for-20 on the night. Luol Deng went 1-for-3 on layups and 6-for-15 on jumpers (although, in his semi-defense, the officials were overlooked a few whacks on the wrist by LeBron). Kirk Hinrich — who’s shooting had been so integral in that Game 3 win — didn’t attempt a single layup and finished 3-for-13. Taj Gibson attempted four shots and converted only one of them.

Don’t even get me started about the bench.

And in the middle of this playoff apocalypse was Joakim Noah, playing with do-or-die intensity and refusing to give up. Noah crashed the boards with something akin to bloodlust, finishing with a game-high 20 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. He earned a team-best eight free throw attempts and made seven of them. He scored 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting, making him perhaps the only Bulls player to register an offensive pulse.

During the third quarter, Jo scored 14 of Chicago’s 24 points. Near the end of the period, he scored on three straight Bulls possessions, hitting a short hook shot and two jumpers from around 15 feet out. In that quarter, Noah sprinted up and down the court like the fate of truth, justice and the American way depended on it. And no matter how tired he was — the dude was huffing and puffing like mad — Joakim never stopped hustling.

Sadly, his efforts weren’t nearly enough.

The Cavaliers are better than the Bulls. Not just a little better. A lot better. So much better it could be considered a mystery why Chicago played them so closely in Game 2 and then stole Game 3. But sometimes you see and smaller, weaker team and hold back a little, whether consciously or unconsciously. Based on the way Cleveland swatted the Bulls down in Game 4, I think it’s safe to say that was the case.

Honestly, I expect more of the same in Game 5. But I’m not disappointed. The Bulls have already surpassed expectations, and I know they’ll come out and try their best. We all knew going in that Chicago was facing a severe talent deficit. In the face of that fact, as a fan, all you want is to see your team try as hard as they can.

And they have. It’s not their fault LeBron is so otherworldly.

Update! TrueHoop Network:
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: “For the love of all that is holy, LeBron. Antawn Jamison all but said LeBron showed up to the arena looking like he wanted to pick up an armored car with his bare hands and use it to tear down the arena after dominating the game and before salting the ground where the arena once stood so that nothing could ever grow there again. I may be exaggerating somewhat, but that’s how LeBron played on Sunday.”

Update! Bonus Stats:
The following information was compiles by Jason Starrett of ESPN Stats & Information:

1. Coming into Sunday, LeBron James had struggled in the Playoffs when shooting from outside the paint. The Cavs star had made only 16 of 36 FG attempted from outside the lane, including 6-for-13 3-pointers. On Sunday, LeBron found his stroke en route to a game-high 37 points. In Game 4, LeBron was 3-for-4 (75 percent) inside the paint, 8-for-13 (61.5 percent) outside the paint, and 6-for-9 on threes.

2. During the first three games of the playoffs, the Bulls had been very efficient in the half-court against the vaunted Cavalier defense. Chicago was unable to maintain that efficiency in Game 4, when they shot 32.9 percent, committed 10 turnovers and scored only 75 points (compared to 43.5, 6 and 83 in Games 1-3).

3. Joakim Noah recorded 21 points and a career-playoff high 20 rebounds on Sunday. It was the first 20/20 recorded in the postseason since Dwight Howard accomplished the feat in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season against the Celtics.

4. Excluding free throws, LeBron James scored all but three of his points in the half-court against the Bulls. Those three points in transition came on his 34-ft heave as time expired in the third quarter.

Update! Reader speak:
The following comment was left by By The Horns reader Nicky C:

“When LeBron hit the half court shot at the end of the third…that was the moment he stuck his hand into the chest of the Bulls and ripped their heart out. You just cannot bounce back from that, and I’m not just talking about that single game.

“I was at the game, and I was foolishly/selfishly hoping for a fantastic LeBron performance AND a Bulls victory. As crushing as the Bulls L was, how can you even be mad at the Bulls? LeBron James is simply unreal. He’s unguardable. It’s scary how many tools/skills he has.

“When Lebron hit that 35-footer, the crowd went silent for a second, then a whoosh of a low ‘whoa…’ moved throughout the crowd. LeBron just stood near midcourt and glared around the stadium. It was a surreal moment. I’m still stupefied by it. On Sunday afternoon, we witnessed.”

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

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26 Responses to Game 4: Cavaliers 121, Bulls 98

    GonzoPal April 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    It hurt. The way the Bulls stood without the blink of a chance for the last 3 quarters yesterday hurt. But mostly because it seemed so damn easy for Cleveland to do what they did. But then you could only give credit to the likes of Noah and their will, fighting on, kind of knowing there will be no happy end. Just not accepting it. I can say after a night of sleep I´m proud of our squad. Thank´s Matt for being so on point.

    brandon1 April 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Is James Johnson as bad as Lebron James is good?

    Mahmoud April 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    JJ is a rookie guarding the best player in the world. I think we can cut him some slack.

    Nicky C April 26, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    When Lebron hit the half court shot at the end of the third…that was the moment he stuck his hand into the chest of the Bulls and ripped their heart out. You just cannot bounce back from that, and I’m not just talking about that single game.

    I was at the game, and I was foolishly/selfishly hoping for a fantastic Lebron performance AND a Bulls victory. As crushing as the Bulls L was, how can you even be mad at the Bulls? Lebron James is simply unreal. He’s unguardable. It’s scary how many tools/skills he has.

    When Lebron hit that 35 footer, the crowd went silent for a second, then a whoosh of a low “whoa…” moved throughout the crowd. Lebron just stood near midcourt and glared around the stadium. It was a surreal moment. I’m still stupefied by it. On Sunday afternoon, we witnessed.

  5. Webster92 April 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    Well written Nicky

    Brad S. April 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    I just read the write-up of the game on the Trib’s website. Of course, I watched the game, but it’s a habit of mine to read about it, too. This is the poll question they have for today: Who is to blame for Bulls disappointing season?

    I think this question is fundamentally wrong. How many of us would say that this season was disappointing? Oh sure, there are some things I am disappointed with: Vinny’s playcalling, Taj’s dissappearance in the playoffs, all the injuries leading to swapping draft picks with the Bucks, Salmons returning to form for the Bucks, and finally the lack of respect from management towards Vinny. However, the goal of this season was first and foremost to get under the salary cap enough to sign a free agent. (Check) The secondary goal was to play well enough to get into the playoffs. (Check) On top of that, the core of this team each showed talent and heart, when they could have mailed it in. I, for one, am not in any way disappointed.

    Spike April 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    In response to Brad S., well, i’m not disappointed either regarding this season.

    But a win (or a closer game @ least) would’ve been nice yesterday…

    So what’s up with LBJ, purposely throwing all his stuff on the floor when the gatoraide boy was standing right infront of him with his hand out, when he was subbing-in.
    The kid didn’t do anything wrong man, what’s wrong with you Lebron?
    What an a$$hole.

  8. Ryan April 26, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    It is baffling on how everyone is handling Lebron’s 1/2 court shot as it was a buzzer beater for the Championship – the guy made the shot at the end of the 3rd quarter with a 20 point lead. In Pre-game they practice it (albeit jokingly at times), half-time they practice it, in practice they practice it. I think it was blown out of proportion, what made it spectacular is that Rose was guarding him for that shot/and they had a 20 point lead (a nice even number) that was stretched to 23. Let’s see him do it with a close game – the pause and stare shows why he will never get the respect Jordan got. I would have rather seen him celebrate with his teammates or pump a fist. All I am saying is that they were up 20 points – he was no ‘stone cold assassin’ hitting the shot as the game clock expired – hence no need for the ‘stone cold assassin’ stand and stare.

    I hope Lebron stays in Cleveland and the Bulls get some solid help in the offseason so Rose and Noah can get some payback. Rose can show Lebron some class and how to be humble. Noah can give hime some verbal warfare that the whole team can back up – Noah is the only consistency we’ve have during these Playoffs. The series isn’t over yet… might as well make them work for it! Give em hell in Cleveland.

    hemlock09 April 26, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    the cavs have a running joke with their towel boys. they gag each other back and forth (and with each other). the players mess with the towel boys to make them feel like they’re part of the team. its been a running story all season long in cleveland.

  10. TexasBullsFan April 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Noah went down with all guns blazing. This was the dude’s Alamo; he knew the Bulls were going to lose. Heck, everyone did by the middle of the third quarter. And even though he knew they were overmatched and going to lose, he kept fighting until the last dog was hung. *That* is how a true champion plays. Noah is officially my favorite Bulls player, maybe of all time.

    You can’t blame the Bulls for this. You can’t even blame Vinny Del Negro. There was just nothing the Bulls could do to stop the onslaught that was LeBron and the Cavs.

    I agree that the season hasn’t been purely disappointing. It’s only disappointing if you had the unrealistic expectation that, at the beginning of the year, the Bulls would compete for the championship this year. That was never a realistic expectation. The Bulls, even playing at maximum capacity, couldn’t beat LeBron’s Cavs or Kobe’s Lakers. Yes, Vinny’s made some mistakes coaching this year, but he got the team to the playoffs. His team never gave up on him, even when it would have been really easy to. He always kept his team fighting hard. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back again, really.

    Torch02 April 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    That half court shot was indicative of the whole Bulls season. It certainly feels like the Bulls give up more buzzer beater points than any other team.

    Matt – since this blog is part of the TrueHoop Network, any chance you can get the Stats & Research folks over at ESPN to find out what teams actually give up the most buzzer-beater points at the end of quarters?

    Dan April 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Sometimes I wonder what LeBrons stats would look like if the refs weren’t constantly kissing his ass. I know that he is a superstar and in the NBA superstars get the calls, but come on. It seems like every single time he drives to the basket, he draws a foul, even if he is barely touched.

    Meanwhile on the other end of the court he can mug Luol Deng in the post but there is no call. He can slap Deng’s wrist on a jump shot but there is no call.

    Lebron averaged over 10 free throw attempts per game in the regular season. Derrick Rose averaged only 4.3 FTA per game when I will guarantee that Rose takes the same amount of contact from defenders if not more.

    Why does the NBA see the need to give LeBron even more of an advantage than he already has. The guy is a freak of nature – 6’8″ 250 lbs, fast as lightning and strong as a bull. It is already hard enough to guard him, but it is impossible when the whistle blows as soon as you touch him.

  13. Rick April 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    “the pause and stare shows why he will never get the respect Jordan got.”

    Cuz Jordan NEVER paused and stared right? Is the pause and stare trademarked to Jordan’s persona so only he can get the respect from you for it??? Wow.

    “I would have rather seen him celebrate with his teammates or pump a fist.”

    And when he does celebrate with his teammates, you haters complain about that too. Jeez, dude can’t win no matter what. I’m sure Lebron is worried sick that Ryan on a Bulls board is not respecting him.

    MQ April 26, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    It is baffling on how everyone is handling Lebron’s 1/2 court shot as it was a buzzer beater for the Championship…Let’s see him do it with a close game

    OK, here you go

    Sean April 26, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    I’m a Cavs fan who just wanted to give kudos to Joakim Noah. His mouth aside, that guy is a gamer, and he NEVER GAVE UP. You could see he was literally exhausted, but he kept coming. Helluva performance by (what I’ve now learned is) a helluva player.

    By the way – assuming LeBron stays (which I believe he will), I’m looking forward to Central Division clashes for years to come. Having said that, Derrick Rose absolutely terrifies me. The guy’s otherworldly speed and ablility to finish at the rim remind me of Wade, but twice as fast. When he extends the reliablilty that jumper, I shudder to think what he’s gonna become…

    AdamPS April 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    Yeah, but after that shot against Orlando, I would have liked to see him a little more calm and collected instead of wildly celebrating with his teammates.

    inkybreath April 27, 2010 at 1:57 am #

    Spike: All due respect, but you are jumping to a conclusion. In a moment during a game like that, I have no problem with a player focusing at the task at hand. To even ask him to step out of his train of thought to politely hand the kid his towel – No. That kid gets to stand next to LeBron and offer some help during the game. That is cool enough. You state that he ‘purposely threw all his stuff on the ground, when the kid was standing right there…” *rough quote* That is an assumption on your part. I will allow the player with the most on his shoulders, maybe in the entire league, to keep his in-game focus .. in-game.

    Dutchboy April 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    @Dan: Lebron draws an insane amount of contact every time he goes to the hoop. Yes, he gets superstar calls, but so does every other superstar in the league. Not that I like it, or think that it’s fair, but that’s the way the NBA, and many other pro leagues world wide, work.

    You can’t really compare LBJ’s and Rose’s FTA per game. Rose avoids a lot of contact by going with his floater (which is a thing of beauty, from a PG’s perspective) or a pull up J in the paint.

    Spike April 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    inkybreath: I totally get what ur saying, and yeah, I might be assuming it. But, I don’t know if you actually saw it, but Lebron actually looked at the kid, saw the hand out, and yet, still threw his stuff to the floor dodging the kid’s hand. 3X in a row dude!?

    I suppose if Lebron was really really REALLY focused, he might’ve done it unconsciously without even noticing that it’s a kid trying to help (or do his job). But still…

    It’s like, you go to 7eleven to buy something, and you put-out ur hand to receive change, but the cashier decides to toss the change on the counter rather than handing it to you.

    Well, i suppose it don’t matter if the kid didn’t care, but man, if I was that kid, I would’ve been pi$$ed-off as hell.

    What happened to the “NBA Cares” and “citizens of the world” stuff, ya know, the commercials of helping out kids and things?
    (I know I know, this is my overblown sarcasm).

    Luke April 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    This is all meaningless talk. Where Lebron puts his towels? How he celebrates a nice shot? I bet you guys care about what type of toilet paper he uses and what side of the bed he sleeps on, too.

    You are treating him like he is the greatest thing to ever to touch this earth. Aren’t you bulls fans? How can you sit here and glorify a guy who is single handedly ending our season? I don’t care how good he is, the front of his jersey doesn’t say Bulls so it doesn’t matter.

    The most disappointing thing I have ever seen as a Bulls fan at a game is the way even Chicago fans reacted to his half court shot. I thought I was in Cleveland. And from that point on no one cared about the game. Sad.

    Bobby April 27, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Dutchboy that is exactly the problem with NBA officiating. You cannot beat a top team in a close game if they have a “superstar”. Dan put it perfectly. Either Lebron’s stats wouldn’t be as good as they are or Rose’s stats would be enough to put him in the superstar category. I can’t stand when people say, “that’s just how it is” because that doesn’t give teams a chance in close games against Lebron, Kobe, Wade, and now Durant. If you really watch Rose play, I would bet that you would see he draws, on average, at least as much contact as Lebron. I still say that a lot of the time Lebron “draws contact” is when he is running the defender over and somehow avoids a charge call but that’s a different issue. Bottom line is if Rose got the calls Lebron gets, there wouldn’t nearly be so much talk in this series about Lebron’s godliness.

    On this series though, the Bulls have proved themselves worthy of a top free agent. As much as I do hate the guy, Lebron has been playin really well and the rest of the team just doesn’t seem to miss. Still the Bulls pulled out a game and who knows maybe they come out hot again tonight but I doubt it. I can’t help putting myself in Wade’s shoes. If I was him I feel like obviously my one goal is to win another championship in a town I love. If he can play in Chicago and still love it, I feel like it’s a no-brainer. You come to Chicago and play next to a willing passer in Rose. You probably can still afford another decent free agent and you probably get a new experienced coach in a fresh system. If he comes here and we get another decent big man or solid shooter, aren’t the Bulls the favorite?

    On that subject, Matt do you have any idea with the new increased cap space how much the Bulls could afford after a top free agent?

    Nicky C April 27, 2010 at 10:56 pm #


    You can’t be mad at Bulls fans for “glorifying” or cheering or being intrigued by the single most dominant specimen in the NBA, not to mention one who just might be wearing a Bulls jersey next season.

    The greatest player the NBA made an amazing shot. I consider myself a die-hard Bulls fan, but any basketball fan in their right mind, Bulls fan or not, should have been thoroughly impressed…maybe even excited…about Lebron’s half courter.

    Outside of Detroit and maybe Cleveland, how many times did Jordan do something amazing at an opposing arena and get showered with cheers? EVERY SINGLE TIME HE STEPPED ON AN AWAY COURT! Lebron’s situation is no different. If you are of the superstar magnitude of the Jordans and Lebrons, people don’t care what jersey you are wearing or what team you play for; people want to see something special and spectacular, and that is what Lebron gave us.

    Luke April 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm #

    And that’s exactly the problem with fans at NBA games. Yes, I am thoroughly satisfied that I will get to one day say “I got to see LeBron James get a triple double in the playoffs”… there is nothing wrong with that. But I will be more proud to add that I did not cheer, gawk or get excited at what he was doing.

    I don’t mean to question your bulls fan-ness, but if you watch enough of the nba and know enough about what is going on, there is no way Lebron is coming to Chicago. absolutely no way. Maybe you’re just being hopeful, but it’s false hope. He is not coming to Chicago.

    inkybreath April 28, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    Spike: You can find a better analogy than a 7-11 attendant, lol … but I get you. Of course, I wished that LeBron had given the kid the nano-second of attention and hand it off to him or playfully throw it on his head? For me, I can’t imagine what that pressure is like, through and through – personally, professionally – what it means to the team and then to the league and then to the world at large that he is advertised to … boggling. LeBron walked on the court out of high school and gave us 25 – 5 -5. Triple-double in his first playoff game. (OK, the compassion train ends here for this well-praised, multi-millionaire …)

    Wins aside, Cleveland is a weird team to watch. I have loved Jamison’s game for a long time and it is odd how lost he can get in their system. You all saw the spurt in the second half … he scored on us SO easily. The announcers were right on it, he has every move you need in this game, really. They still have not seemed to tap into the real potential of it. It does show that Jamison is not an impact defender, otherwise, they would be unstoppable. From what I see in this series, I still can’t tell if they are ready to take the title.


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