Cleveland #Cavs Toughness Will Prevail In NBA Finals

The 2014-2015 NBA regular season was a virtual coronation for the Golden State Warriors. They have the reigning NBA MVP in Steph Curry. They won 67 games in the regular season, losing only 15. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Warriors won the regular season. The problem for them is that they don’t give out any trophies for the regular season, only playoff seeds. And now they have their last gift from their magical regular season, home court advantage in the NBA finals. The question for all of us looking on now is “Will that last gift be enough to bring them an NBA Championship?”

The Cleveland Cavaliers won 66 games in the 2008-2009 season. They had the reigning MVP in LeBron James. They also lost in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 and couldn’t get out of the “weaker” East to even appear in the Finals. Everyone knew that the Cleveland team in 2009 was mainly “LeBron and a bag of marbles” and yet they dominated the regular season and won those 66 games barely breaking a sweat. In that year, almost every Cleveland Cavalier other than LeBron wilted in the playoffs. No one could hit critical shots, which virtually negated LeBron’s masterful ability to create. Plus, LeBron wasn’t the player than that he is now in terms of knowing what it takes to win playoff games consistently. He admits that himself when asked.

So now those tables are turned. Don’t get me wrong. The Warriors have many very good role players and one, Harrison Barnes, has proven that he can hit tough shots when the game is on the line. They have a very tough “tweener” small forward/power forward in Green who has proven ability on both ends of the court. Bogut is a tough nose player who will not be intimidated in the middle. Everyone knows about the famous “splash brothers” and there is not much to say except that they are very good players. Thompson especially can defend as well as shoot. Curry played like an MVP this year and can hit contested shots with a quick release and deadeye accuracy. So the perception that Golden State is a very good team is deserved. However, they are not playoff tested from a tough minded defensive team that also has great offensive skills. That reality is about to smack them in the face and we will see if they can recover from the blow. I wrote recently before the Atlanta series that the Cleveland Cavs are coming together at the right time. Those words are even more true now than they were before the Eastern Conference Finals.

Once you give the Warrior’s their due that they are a very good team, the reality starts separating from the fantasy. The oft used word is that the Warriors are a “very deep team” and Cleveland is not. Well, the reality is that the Cavalier “roll players” (Shumpert, Smith, Delly, Mozgov, Thompson, and Jones) have all performed far better at the offensive end than the Warriors after Curry and Klay Thompson. The Cavalier roll players have had more games total with 15 points or more than their Warrior counterparts. The Cavs players minus each team’s “big two” have had 15 games with over 15 points and the Warriors have 11 games with over 15 points. If you take away both team’s starters (indicating depth of scoring), the Cavs have 7 games of 15 or more points and the Warriors have 2. The gaps close considerably when you include games by role players over 10 points but the Cavs margin of players with 15 or more points counters that easily.

Defensively, the Warrior role players are talented but not elite. Shumpert, Smith, Delly, Mozgov and Thompson have all been defending at very high levels and contesting shots on the perimeter and at the rim with high efficiency. The Cavaliers and Warriors are eerily similar in terms of rebounds both offensive and defensive. No difference in either area. The Cavs have about .8 blocks per game more than the Warriors but the Warriors have 2.2 more steals per game. To counter the steals, the Cavs have 3 less turnovers per game than the Warriors. The Cavaliers in the playoffs have a field goal percentage against of 41.2% vs 43.1% for the Warriors. In terms of 3 point percentage against, the Cavs have the edge 28.1% vs 31%.

In terms of advanced statistics, I could not do a better job than John Schuhmann did on His article titled: Numbers Preview: The Finals outlines the key advanced statistics. One statement basically confirmed what I am trying to show with standard statistics when he said “And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.”

Based on the play of both teams in the playoffs, I strongly challenge the oft repeated contention that the Warriors have a “much deeper” team. They do play more players in their rotation (generally 10 vs 8 for the Cavs) but the productivity of those extra players, even combined as I noted above, is no greater than the Cavalier reserves. Plus, just because Cleveland plays Miller, Marion, and Perkins very sparingly doesn’t mean that those players are useless or do not account for additional depth that the Cavs do not use. The wild card for the Warriors is David Lee and, even though used very little, is a highly productive player when called upon.

If someone wants to drop the “East is so much weaker” you can’t compare the Cavs statistically to the Warriors, I would point out that the Cavaliers were 14-1 against the Western Conference after January 15th when the current team was fully assembled. Cleveland beat virtually every playoff team in the Western Conference during that span including the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers. The only game they lost was to Houston in overtime and the Cavs did not have Kyrie Irving on the floor during that game.

But statistical analysis can only take us so far when it comes to analyzing this series. The Warriors may have the best scorer in the series but the Cavaliers clearly have the most dominant single player in LeBron James. His ability to be a triple threat on any night is a separator in a playoff series. Cleveland has great team chemistry and, even without Kevin Love, they are a superior team in terms of toughness and have been challenged with large numbers of injuries during the playoffs. Most of these injuries are nagging and not completely resolving. Shumpert, Irving, James, and Thompson have all been dinged up by varying degrees. And Love was lost for the entire playoffs. This is an edge for the Warriors but an edge for the Cavaliers in terms of resiliency and ability to adjust to adversity.

Kyrie Irving’s health and ability to maintain a high level of play is critical for the Cavaliers to have a strong chance to win a championship. Even with Irving hobbled he has been reasonably productive but he needs to stay well to avoid being a defensive liability. That would be a hole that the offensively gifted Warriors could exploit. The Cavaliers will remain creative but really cannot hide Irving defensively as well as they could against the Hawks and Chicago.

In an NBA finals, unless one team is substantially better than the other team, both teams will go through adversity and be challenged in the series. It is the team that can respond best to that adversity who will likely prevail. By that measurement, Cleveland seems to have a huge edge. The tough “grind it out” style that the Cavaliers have played in the playoffs will not be easy for Golden State to counter. If the Cavaliers protect the ball and avoid silly turnovers outside the three point line, it will be difficult for Golden State to control the tempo and avoid a half court grinding defensive game. If that is true, advantage Cleveland again.

Baring major injuries to James or Irving, Cleveland wins in 6 games. The 50+ years of misery will end.

#Cavs Coming Together As A Team Just In Time

With all the media focus on manufacturing fissures in the team between Blatt and LeBron, the real story has been lost in the sandstorm of silliness. The story is one of a team, combining experienced veterans with young playoff neophytes, that has grown through adversity and trial by fire. The growth of the team is manifest in their ability to oust a far more experienced team in six games despite many injuries and even a two game suspension for one of the starters. That growth was further evident in their ability to dominate the Bulls in a clinching game on their home court while Kyrie Irving sat out with an injury for most of the game. The post game interview room where Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellevadova flanked LeBron James was a visual image of the transformation of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The transformation was started when David Griffin had the vision to spend every chip he inherited from Chris Grant and created on his own to retool this Cleveland team with pieces that “fit” and that balanced the team. It has progressed with this difficult playoff run where the team has been reduced to a MASH unit starting with game 2 against Boston and continuing to worsen until game 6 against Chicago.

Every single thread of that “fit” is needed as the injuries mount and the competition stiffens. Kyrie Irving declared to all of us on multiple occasions that this team is the closest team he has ever played with. I kind of shrugged that off because I knew an irritant to Kyrie (Dion) was gone and that this team was winning and his other pro teams did not. Often that translates to a closer team that develops chemistry. Whether or not I was right to shrug it off earlier in the year is uncertain, but for me to ignore that now would be a sign of blindness. The Cavs are a team growing closer by the minute and their belief in each other is clear for all to see. The most obvious evidence was the way they embraced Dellavedova when he entered the locker room after the game 6 dismantling of Chicago. But to me the most telling sign is the way LeBron has changed his tune when he talks about the team. The passion in his voice as he explained the importance to the team of both Thompson and Dellavedova spoke volumes about where the team had been and where it was headed.

Even though LeBron has stopped a bit short of saying it with conviction thus far, clearly he now believes in this team and believes in their growth. He feels that the young players who had not been playoff tested are responding well and showing no signs of “wilting” in the moment. LeBron is not that hard to read in this regard. It was clear in the 2 final years during his first run with Cleveland that he did not have that confidence in the team or his teammates. He believed, and said as much later, that they HAD wilted in the playoff light. Without question they were a great regular season team, but not a great playoff team. For that matter, LeBron himself had a great deal of growing to do in that regard even though he had some spectacular playoff games in those earlier years.

This team is clearly different as the lights have turned on. Shumpert is playing some of the best basketball of his career despite a groin pull that has certainly not fully healed. Kyrie Irving is pretty severely hampered by a multitude of injuries and yet has contributed to the wins, sometimes in a big way. JR Smith, despite a suspension, has come up huge with three point shooting during quarters 3 and 4 of the final two games against Chicago. Without his shooting, the final spectacular shot that LeBron made in game 4 would never have happened. That game would have been over long before.

Timofey Mozgov has been a bit spotty in his play but made a huge contribution in game 4 as well to give us a chance to win and is blocking shots at a near record pace. Tristan Thompson has been nothing short of amazing after taking over the starting power forward position from the injured Kevin Love. His energy and offensive rebounds have made him a dominant force in these playoffs and no one can question his immense value to the team. Delly has shown that, under pressure, he can perform even better than he did during the regular season. His 3 point shooting has been solid, he is protecting the ball well, and continues to be an enormous pest on defense to anyone he guards. Aaron Brooks was basically made a nonfactor in the Chicago series, primarily a tribute to Delly’s tenacity. And who can deny the importance of the 3 point shooting of James Jones? Although his points have not been overwhelming, his timing of those points has been critical for the Cavs success. And Kevin Love, before his untimely departure, had just delivered a dagger 3 point shot to put away Boston in a game.

Finally, the team has battled defensively to produce the best field goal percentage against statistic of any team left in the playoffs. That is partly a reflection of the teams they have played, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the Cavalier defense has been solid throughout. Mozgov’s rim protection has been second to none in the playoffs, and the Cavs are swatting shots away like flies on a hot summer day. Cleveland has some elite defenders (LeBron/Shumpert) on the floor much of the time and other competent and pesky defenders (Thompson/Dellavedova/Smith) to complement.

The team’s toughness has been tested and Cleveland has passed the test at every turn. Thompson jumping up after a fall on his shoulder that would have sidelined most players and Shumpert playing like a monster after a cheap close line attempt by Mirotic. Kyrie playing basically on one leg since early in the Boston series and “playing on one leg” is now even an exaggeration of his health given the current state of his formerly “uninjured” leg. Shumpert has continued to be an elite or near elite defender despite a groin pull that primarily saps a player’s ability to laterally move and defend. Cleveland’s depleted bench basically outplayed the vaunted “depth” of the Chicago Bulls that so many pointed to as the difference in that series.

When the roster and each player in the rotation is judged thus far, there is not one who isn’t stepping up in these playoffs. One could point to Perkins, Miller, and Marion but they have played so little as a group that it is hard to even count them as a part of these playoffs. Their time may yet come but it is unfair to judge them at this point. It should be quite obvious to anyone who objectively measures these playoffs that the Cleveland Cavalier players AND coaches have stepped up big time when it has counted most leading to an 8-2 record in these playoffs. Yet, despite this record and despite the grit and determination shown by this team, they will be discounted by the pundits and picked to lose against the Hawks. Las Vegas will have no such bias and may look at the series differently, but that is what you will hear from the “experts” on TV and radio.

Disregarding the naysayers is very difficult for Cleveland fans. They have been kicked around so much it is kind of like the horrific “battered wife” syndrome that sadly occurs in society. But it is important for Cavs fans to look at the facts that their team is VERY hard to beat. They have the best player in every series (and would have the second best player in most except for injury) and a team that is stepping up to the challenge and not wilting under the playoff pressure. This team is NOW vastly better than the sum of it’s parts. It is developing the togetherness and toughness needed for a champion. Again, there is no guarantee that they win the Eastern Conference or the NBA Championship. But make no mistake about it, they are developing the identity of champions! Cleveland should celebrate that during this next series and hopefully beyond. In case you forget how Ohio teams can be so easily disregarded, think of the 2014/15 Ohio State Buckeye football team. They had repeated injuries to the most important position on the field and came out National Champions. They were discounted at every turn as inferior to the competition. They won. It can happen again. Hold on!!

ALL IN – TOGETHER – Can #Cavs Fans Embrace The Concept After Game #4?

We just experienced another type of “shot” in Cleveland sports. One that actually won us a game and put us firmly back in a series that was looking kind of rough. After one of the best shots in Cleveland sports history, what do we see on Twitter, in the media, and during the television commentary? A whole ton of time focused on Blatt trying to call a timeout when he had none and being stopped before the officials saw it. Another large chunk of time spent on the last out of bounds play that Blatt tried to call and LeBron overruled by asking for the ball. Additional time spent on how it was “fortunate” the Cavs had time to draw up a play while the officials looked at the time left on video. This is just another example of the Cavs media, social media, and national media focusing on what divides the Cleveland Cavaliers instead of what binds them. I am not questioning the fact that some of these things are interesting and worthy of some comment. But I am questioning the way they dominated the post-game talk and social media instead of the fact the Cavaliers won a hard fought game and James made a shot for the ages in Cleveland post-season history.

Let me provide an alternative narrative!

The Cleveland Cavaliers had their backs against the wall today in the hostile environment of the United Center in Chicago. A loss would put them down 3-1 in a series that would be slipping away as fast as an ice cube on a glass mountain. The Cavs have fought an uphill battle throughout this series with an injury plagued roster. The injury rolls have continued to expand and show no signs of stopping. Despite this unfortunate set of circumstances, the Cavaliers and Bulls have put together a spirited and competitive series. The Bulls even decided to join the fun by losing their All Star power forward Pau Gasol to an injury keeping him out of game 4. To gauge this series by “what ifs” based on who is injured or seriously impaired would be an insult to the effort and professionalism displayed on the court in this series.

It is a hard fought series. It is very physical. But, as has been noted many times by coach Blatt, it is not a dirty series or unnecessarily physical. This is a credit to both teams. Both for how well they are coached and how professional they play. This also makes for some darn competitive games that are fun to watch. Both team’s mega stars have now made huge buzzer beater shots to win games.

The Cavs have needed to make adjustment after adjustment in this series. The suspension for JR Smith combined with the large number of injuries has kept the Cavs in an inconsistent rotation. Coach Blatt has needed to find significant contributions from his bench and ways to match up with a variety of adjustments made by Thibodeau for Chicago. The adjustments made by Blatt have, on balance, been excellent and those made for game 4 were even better than previous.

The decision to play Timofey Mozgov for almost 39 minutes, far more than in any game previously, was a brilliant way to create mismatches and keep rim protection in the game most of the time. He was unbelievably efficient with 15 points on only 5 shots and 8 foul shots. He also had 3 assists and 3 blocked shots. His presence was felt from start to finish. JR Smith was given significant minutes but not excessive while trying to get his game legs and wind back after a long layoff. His contribution in the fourth quarter was critical toward bringing the series back to Cleveland tied 2-2. Although some could question playing a hobbled Kyrie Irving almost 41 minutes, LeBron James explained how he always has to be accounted for by the opposing team because of his ability to make shots. Mathew Dellavedova has been used about 16 minutes per game and has been very effective in his limited role. His game 4 performance was probably his least effective, but he has played good defense especially against Brooks, who has been essentially a nonfactor in this series.

The Cavaliers played hard, especially in Chicago. This is again a tribute to the quality of Blatt’s coaching and the quality of the player’s professionalism and togetherness. The Cavaliers have truly had each others backs, whether it has been a teammate or a coach. LeBron has earned the right to ask for the ball at the end of a game and Blatt was happy to accommodate. Did Blatt repeat a near mistake from earlier in the year where he tried to call a timeout when none were left? Yes he did. But his assistant coaches, specifically Tyrone Lue, saved him from that fate by having his back. That is one of the main jobs of the assistant head coach to support the head coach and reduce the chance of mistakes. To act like Lue doing his job was some kind of miracle save is putting too much emphasis on too little. That being said, if Blatt ever tries that again, I’ll be all over his case. But in this game, his excellent adjustments and ability to keep the team in focus during very disruptive times far exceeds any presumed problems in his inbound plays or time out management.

And, while we are on an alternative narrative to negativity, I think the decision by Blatt to draw up a play with James taking the ball out made perfect sense. James had not been able to make shots. Had made multiple mistakes down the stretch creating turnovers that hurt the team. He admitted all of this after the game. LeBron is a great decision maker and should be the most reliable inbounder. So you could argue that Blatt was simply sending a message to LeBron to get his shit together or these would be the plays drawn up. LeBron, saying “No” to that message, called for the ball. Blatt said, “Sure, let’s do that”. LeBron makes the shot. All is good. It is almost impossible to coach a superstar. It is even more impossible to coach a generational superstar. Blatt will get few chances to send a message without his superstar shutting him out. Blatt sent the message. LeBron held himself accountable and answered the challenge. So, regardless of whether I am right about this narrative or wrong, the result was positive and Cleveland is tied 2-2.

And, in case you wonder, I am not the only one who felt a play at the end of the game with LeBron inbounding was the correct play. But that doesn’t matter, if the generational superstar asks for the ball to take the shot, that’s the play that should be called. LeBron was right AND, in my opinion, so was Blatt.

It took a great effort from the Cleveland Cavaliers to retake home court in this series. The Bulls fought hard and showed skill and resiliency. However, their offensive lapses are not unexpected given their regular season history and playoff history this year. That, coupled with the Cavs underrated defense, means that the Cavaliers can expect to see more of those lapses and need to take advantage of each and every one of them. The Bulls will not go away. The series will likely remain tight. But, as I have repeatedly said, if the Cleveland Cavs play with energy and effort they are the better team. They now have home court back and a tiny bit of momentum. Let’s hope that carries through and they can actually field a full team to face the Bulls. I am hoping upon hopes that Pau Gasol is healthy and returns to game 5. I missed him in game 4 and want him back. The Cavs don’t need the Bulls to be injured. Better to win with them healthy.

We come up with pretty good rallying cries in Cleveland. The season started with a great one called “Together” and is finishing with another pretty good one “All IN”. For anyone that doesn’t know, this idea actually was promoted, if not originated, from the Cavalier radio color commentator Jim Chones. Jim is a former Cavalier that many feel could have helped win us a championship if healthy. He has been using that catch phrase all season in his post-game and in-game commentary. Both ideas are intended to bring a sense of solidarity between the city, the fans and the team. It is my opinion that, if you are truly a fan of the Cavaliers and Cleveland sports, we should embrace the concept and move forward with a positive sense of purpose. It is fine to disagree. It is fine to debate. It is fine to be uncertain and fearful this team might lose despite their talent. If is fine to even be unhappy about how things are done and question. But, in the final analysis, for Cleveland to get their elusive championship it is not in any of our best interests to be “realistically” negative and focus on why Cleveland won’t win. For us to break through this wall of negativity and win, WE need to believe. No matter how “unrealistic” we think it is. Why don’t we all embrace the concept? The Cavs are still the better team. We should be ALL IN …………… TOGETHER !!! Try it if you haven’t yet. You’ll feel good believing in what could be instead of what might not be.

ALL IN – TOGETHER – Can #Cavs Fans Just Embrace The Concept ??

I am writing this just before game 4 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. I don’t pretend to know who will win that game. I do know that, if the Cavs lose, the mountain of negativity will be almost too hard to fathom. It is for that reason I wanted to put this out there quickly.

I have been a consistent member of Cavs Twitter and Cleveland sports social media for several years now. One thing that has me baffled, even though I know the possible reasons, is the way sound minded people simply throw negativity out there like a badge of honor about Cleveland sports. Those folks frequently cover their negativity in a blanket of their being “realistic”. Well if you were a betting person, you would take those “realistic” odds every day because the fact is that Cleveland teams have not been particularly successful with no championships in 50 years. So I guess being sour and negative is being realistic in a practical sense. However, if we wanted to be “realistic” all the time, why root for sports teams to begin with?? Unless your team is a prohibitive favorite, you are never being realistic when you root for the team or even believe that they will win. So I guess, while you are secretly being “unrealistic” with your support, you spout landscapes of realism to the rest of us to prove that you are knowledgeable and realistic while the rest of us are just “fanatical” idiots.

Just recently I read a tweet from someone I consider a good fan who made a big point about how he was “right in November” when he told all of us that David Blatt was playing LeBron, Kyrie, and Love too many minutes and that is why the Cavs are breaking down like Lego blocks now. The reality is that the same three players that “oracle” twitter tweeter referred to played as a group 440 more minutes the previous year than they did this year when Blatt “overplayed” them. And only one of the three, the youngest Irving, played more minutes than the previous year. What we all do know is that the media was hammering Blatt and the Cavs on the same issue throughout the early part of the season. So, my question is whether this fan is being logical and realistic or simply trying to find a negative to spout before the Cavs lose game 4 and have a mountain to climb. I don’t know the answer but I think Cavs fans and Cleveland sports fans need to begin to embrace the positive and try to “will” the Cavs home with positive rather than negative energy.

We come up with pretty good rallying cries in Cleveland. The season started with a great one called “Together” and is finishing with another pretty good one “All IN”. For anyone that doesn’t know, this idea actually was promoted, if not originated, from the Cavalier radio color commentator Jim Chones. Jim, a former Cavalier and one who many feel could have helped win us a championship if healthy. Both ideas are intended to bring a sense of solidarity between the city, the fans and the team. It is my opinion that, if you are truly a fan of the Cavaliers and Cleveland sports, we should embrace the concept and move forward with a positive sense of purpose. It is fine to disagree. It is fine to debate. It is fine to be uncertain and fearful this team might lose despite their talent. If is fine to even be unhappy about how things are done and question. But, in the final analysis, for Cleveland to get their elusive championship it is not in any of our best interests to be “realistically” negative and focus on why Cleveland won’t win. For us to break through this wall of negativity and win, we need to believe. No matter how “unrealistic” we think it is. Why don’t we all embrace the concept? The Cavs are still the better team. We should be ALL IN …………… TOGETHER !!! Try it for a change. It might give you a good feeling.

Getting Nervous Yet?? #Cavs Game One Loss Not Pivotal

After their victory in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Chicago Bulls might think they smell blood in the water. In reality, if you break it down with some logic, they might be smelling a Yellow Sea Anemone. As you will see in this excellent picture by National Geographic, this is a lovely creature that looks quite helpless at first glance.


Just when you are feeling real comfortable as a nice little fish next to this beauty, it pokes out a venomous spike and you are the one dead in the water. So if I were the Chicago Bulls after game one, I don’t think I would get all that full of myself quite yet. LeBron admitted to this being a “feeling out” game and sounded super excited to break down the tape from the game and find some solutions. He admitted that he needed to play better and I couldn’t agree more. The fans also need an excitement transplant but I will attribute that to the Cavs never taking the lead and squandering multiple opportunities to come back and put the Bulls on their heels. When the team looked on the verge of taking back a lifeless game, the fans were super loud and standing. So I will give the fans a pass this game. I plan to do the same for the Cavs coaches and players.

I am sure that if we are honest with ourselves, we saw this coming. The interesting thing is that the reason for seeing it coming had less to do with who the Cavs didn’t have on the court and more to do with the Cavs being set up for a lifeless performance by circumstances not all within their control. The Cavaliers dispensed of the Celtics in short order and hadn’t played in more than a week. They tried to practice and work hard, but practice can never simulate a playoff game. Plus, practice does not maintain game fitness or readiness. It actually drains game fitness and reduces readiness. Until the last game, the Bulls had been virtually embarrassed by the Bucks and had not been playing well. But, they did play well in their last game when the Bucks basically called it in early in the game. And, they had a nice rest but not too much time that their game readiness would be affected.

So on the basis of the long layoff compared to the Bulls brief rest, the Cavs might not have the stamina or “edge” they needed to knock off the Bulls with 2/5ths of the starting lineup not available and 1/5 done for the series. The Bulls knew this and counted on it. They were fully aware that they could steal game one. However, when one analyzes the game, it is clear that LeBron played passive despite his numbers and made crucial mistakes whenever they were gaining momentum or could take the lead. Both Kyrie and LeBron missed critical layups near the end of the game when the outcome was still very much in doubt.

As can happen to a team that hadn’t played together in awhile, the Cavs started nearly comatose with almost nonexistent defense and lifeless/unimaginative offense. The easy way to pass blame for this would be the coaching staff but the reality is likely quite different. The players simply couldn’t execute and were not aggressive enough early along going to the basket or getting shots in the paint. Instead they fired up longer shots (some threes) and hoped they would go in, which they didn’t. Chicago on the other hand was white hot with much of the first quarter seeing them hitting close to 70% of their shots and about 70% from beyond the arc. This was a combination of a fortunate hot shooting start for the Bulls and the Cavs nearly complete lack of resistance. Either one being different might have changed things, but they were not.

Another severe blow to a good start and a good game was the fact that the starting lineup had not played together in a game since early in the season if ever. This is not whining about who the Cavs didn’t have available to play. This is about the Cavs not using the correct starting lineup correctly. Yes, I absolutely did feel that the starting lineup was exactly what should have been done. But the offensive flow of the Cavs did not move to get some open shots for Mike Miller as the Bulls did for Dunleavy. If it had, the results might have been similar to the Bulls and we would have been able to score the ball consistently and keep the game close early. The energy expended to catch up and try to take the lead was especially difficult to overcome given the Cavs reduced endurance from the week layoff.

The lack of being able to adjust quickly to the repeated open elbow looks for Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, especially in the third quarter, made the lead swell back to 14 and make a comeback even less certain. That falls partially on the coaching staff and partly on the player’s overall lack of effort. And, to be honest, that was the difference in the game because Gasol just stood their at his favorite spot and drained jumpers without creating any physical contact. Meanwhile Rose, a notoriously average to poor shooter, kept hitting tough jumpers and helped the team maintain their lead. Jimmy Butler did eventually get 20 points but he was contained for much of the night.

So, in a nutshell, it was Dunleavy carrying the first quarter with 13 points mostly from deep, then disappearing. It was Derek Rose dancing around and throwing up ugly floaters and good shots, when he wasn’t assisting Gasol. And it was Gasol pot shotting from the elbow with absolutely no one around him. Sprinkle in a few wide open threes and you have the Bulls offense. Nothing there was special and all of that could be defended. Unfortunately, none of it was.

LeBron James game was not a good one despite the gaudy 15 rebounds and 9 assists. His 19 points were very hard to get and he committed crucial turnovers and missed a “must make” driving layup late in the game. Kyrie Irving was absolutely awesome in spurts but only in spurts. Shumpert was basically terrific and, had other things gone better, would likely have won us the game.

Not to analyze every nuance, the Cavs simply played an almost predictable lackluster game and the Bulls did what they had to do to win. But, despite shooting over 50% for the game and well over 50% from three point range, the Bulls could muster only a close win that would have been 94-92 with plenty of time left had LeBron made his driving layup. The final 7 point differential should be no comfort for Thibodeau and the Bulls. If the Cavs play their normal game, they win this game going away.

So it is definitely NOT time to be nervous. However, it is time to expect the team to pull out a home win Wednesday with a much better effort and a better game plan going in. I have every expectation that will happen and nothing I saw from the Bulls today changes my viewpoint. The Cavs are the better team even with the player losses right now, but they will need to play better and LeBron will need to attack more for the Cavs to take back momentum in the series. Passive “feeling out” play going forward will not cut it when it comes to getting the wins they need to oust the Bulls.