Flirting with a triple-double looks good on paper, but for LeBron James his Game 1 performance will not produce a win for his Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2.
While Iman Shumpert has covered for the loss of J.R. Smith (suspended) masterfully, and the Cavs look for that to continue in Game 2. Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls hoped to combat them with defense and rebounding, again. Who can blame them? They were never down once in the first meeting. Most importantly, will Derrick Rose continue to shoot the three well in this series? If so, Cleveland could be heading to the Windy City down two games to none.
Bulls starting five was the same because you don’t screw with perfection. LeBron James returned to the small forward position and Tristan Thompson started at power forward, hoping to give the Cavs an advantage on the boards. If Shumpert has a repeat showing of Game 1, we can suspect Cavs head coach, David Blatt, will keep him in the lineup even when Smith is eligible to return.
All of this of course would depend on the play of the King.
As suspected, the King and his court came out very strong. High-energy play led to a quick eleven-point lead, causing Chicago’s first timeout, after only making one shot in the first six-minutes of play. It was clear James was feeling the pressure of the loss and immediately took control of the quarter, finding the open man and making the shots he was taking.
Also, it should be noted that he was wearing a headband for the first time this postseason.
With four to go in the quarter, the Cavaliers were up 18 and the hole was only getting deeper for the Bulls, as the turnovers began to take their toll. Not only that, but James was starting to look like he was ready to put on a memorable postseason performance to keep his young team in the series. The Cavaliers were noticeably feeling his vibe, because even guys like Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones began hitting big shots.
The Bulls would attempt to inch closer before the end of the quarter, but LeBron and the Cavs would have none of it. James couldn’t miss and as previously mentioned, the bench players were feeding off of his leadership. With a score of 38-18, the Cavaliers were clearly in the driver’s seat and the scariest part for the Bulls was that Kyrie Irving had not even been heard from yet.
The Bulls started the second with Rose and Aaron Brooks on the floor together. This was intriguing because they are both point guards and can create mismatches on the floor. Irving was making his presence felt at the line and under the rim, while the Cavaliers continued to bang home three-pointers, making Chicago feel almost helpless. Almost, because each time the Bulls looked to be too far out of it, they would get a big play out of either Rose or Game-1 hero, Jimmy Butler.
Shumpert would go to shine in the bright lights of the first half, keeping Butler quiet offensively, while hitting three’s and snagging rebounds on the other end, truly proving himself to be the surprise of the series.
With his third three-pointer of the game, Dellavedova was cruising and proving himself valuable off Cleveland’s bench. The only thing more impressive than the three-point shooting of Cleveland, was LeBron. Anything he wanted, he was getting. Including an isolation throw-down in the face of Jimmy Butler. One could not help but wonder if this was going to be a Jordan-esque playoff game for James. It was certainly heading that way with a few minutes left in the first half the Cavs were up 21 on the well-built shoulders of LeBron James.
Before the end of the half, James would remove himself from the game grimacing in pain. Almost immediately, there was a Pau Gasol sighting for the Bulls on consecutive plays. It was clear with LeBron off the court the Bulls would be pounding the rock into the paint on the coat tails of Gasol. That would end before the end of the half with the return of the King to the floor.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard in Quicken Loans Arena.
Regardless of any momentum the Bulls might have gained at the end of the quarter, they were still down 19 at the half. The Cavaliers were obviously being led by Lebron’s 22 points, five rebounds, and three assists. An even scarier stat for Chicago was the fact that Butler was the only Bull in double-digits in the first half. Cleary, James was on a mission that even halftime couldn’t hinder.
The Bulls began to claw their way back in the second half, playing as a team, finding the open man on the floor and playing solid team defense.
Another scare occurred for the Cavaliers when Iman Shumpert appeared to have pulled a groin muscle at the start of the third quarter when he was fouled while driving to the basket. Shumpert headed to the locker room and as time drug on it looked more and more as if he wouldn’t return. With Shumpert missing, the Bulls went on a 14-0 run. As if that wasn’t bad enough for the Cavs, Timothy Mozgov and LeBron got into a visible back-and-forth on the floor. Which would later prove to be nothing more than competitiveness between teammates.
Butler began to take control of the game with Shumpert being evaluated and started looking like himself. But just like that, with one player going down, one stepped up and Cavs forward James Jones would hit two-straight three’s, keeping the Cavs at a safe distance from their opponent.
It was becoming apparent that when the games pace was high it favored the Cavs, and a slow half-court style gave the Bulls the advantage. So of course, LeBron was pushing the ball and willing his team to keep their eyes on the prize. The question was still lingering: Would Shumpert return to the game?
The only person not wondering was James because he was too busy bullying his way to the basket and scorong at will. No matter the great defense on him played by Butler, James was creating and making shots. As the third quarter progressed, the Bulls were becoming smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of the screaming train that was the Cavs. The name of the conductor? LeBron James.
With one period of play remaining, the Bulls needed a miracle. They also needed to stop the King who had already amassed 30 points, accompanied by seven boards, and five dimes. Yes, those statistics are only through three quarters. Barring a major natural disaster the game was firmly in the Cavs’ hands.
Fouls and turnovers would prohibit the Bulls from getting any momentum going. Also, the tactic of staying big against Cleveland had been abandoned because the Bulls started the fourth with an extremely small lineup. Showcasing the play of young guard, Tony Snell, who would hit a three early in the quarter.
Is there a stat for “most times you keep your teams momentum going with a huge rebound?” No? Well there should be, because Tristan Thompson would lead the league in it every year. Whether offensive glass or a defensive board, Thompson continually kept his team in control of the lead with a huge rebounds.
Iman Shumpert would finally return to the game with eight minutes to go. That’s probably around the same time all of the Bulls fans started heading for the exits. The away team just could not get any offense going. Even when Chicago would get stops on the defensive side of the ball.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had seen enough and called a mercy timeout with six minutes on the game clock.
Out of the timeout it was clear the Bulls had conceded defeat by emptying their bench at all positions except for Joakim Noah. If the jersey numbers weren’t different, I would not have noticed a change because the fouls, missed shots, and turnovers carried on for the Bulls no matter who was on the court.
Game 2 was almost identical to the first. One team beat down the other, not allowing their lead to be lost all game. Except this time it was the Cavaliers doing it to the Bulls off of 33 points by James, 22 of those points being scored the paint. With a final of 106-91, it was never close. The series will return to Chicago on Friday, but it will all be for naught if the King’s power goes unchecked again by Butler and the Bulls.
The question for the rest of the series: Will James stick with the headband?