How could the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly match such an amazing game as the previous one ?
We could only hope for a repeat of LeBron James unleashing all of his skills to make sure his team avoids a two-game deficit, with Chicago looking to play the same defense on James as they did in Games 1 and 3. King James undoubtedly needs the help of his round-table, because in each loss they were no where to be found.
An injury to Pau Gasol will bumped Bulls’ sixth man Taj Gibson into the starting role. With Gasol clearly playing injured all series, this could be a blessing in disguise. Gibson’s work on the glass and energy off the bench has been a huge plus for his team each game of the series. So with him starting, Joakim Noah may be able to get his passing game going quicker, leading to better game for the whole Bulls offense.
Choosing to stay with Iman Shumpert over J.R. Smith, the Cavaliers rolled out the same starting five they have used for entire series. More surprising was LeBron James attempting to break the internet by playing without his headband for the first time in three games. Not surprising of James was his immediate success at getting himself going, hitting a long two and getting his teammates involved.
Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose would not allow their team to play in the shadow of James. A three-ball from Butler and three the hard way by Rose would prove that. Noah would also contribute in the paint early on. Hopefully a sign of a better shooting to come, as it has evaded him all series.
As the game began to take shape, Rose was looking like his old self, slashing through the lane and making circus-style left-handed layups that even impressed his defenders. LeBron would answer with an arena-quieting three-point bomb. Not to be outdone, Rose created separation and climbed up to hit an elbow jumper causing David Blatt to pull the trigger on the first Cavaliers timeout.
With turnovers beginning to plague the Cavs, the last player they wanted to see come off the Bulls’ bench was Nikola Mirotic, a big contributor in the team’s Game 3 victory. He was obviously a big concern for Cleveland as they left Butler open on two-straight possessions, resulting in two three-pointers from Jimmy.
With the quarter coming to a close the Bulls were clearly the momentum holders, but the King and his knights were only down two points. Rose had nine first-quarter points and that trend spelled disaster to the Cavaliers because Butler was making it happen offensively as well.
How would the King respond?
Rose would re-enter the game in the start of the second, making another ridiculous layup through contact, extending his hot streak. Mirotic hit his first three giving the Bulls the largest lead of the game, six points. All of that activity would bring LeBron’s stint on the bench to an end, showing us all how important this game truly is to the Cavs.
Derek Rose was unquestionably the catalyst for the Bulls’ offense keeping himself in rhythm, while getting his teammates open with beautiful passing. But it was the defense in the paint on LeBron James by Butler that was creating all of the easy chances for Chicago.
Not until halfway through the second would Kyrie Irving make his first shot. That was followed by a layup from James which tied the game at 37, forcing Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau to take a timeout with six minutes left in the half.
Amazingly, the home crowd was still in the game even though their team had been on a stretch of 13 consecutive missed shots. This resulted in a six-point lead for the Cavs, their largest lead of the game.
A 16-to-nothing Cleveland run was finally ended by Tony Snell hitting a layup through traffic. Snell proved to be the turning tide in the quarter because once he scored, it opened the floodgates for the Bulls who hit their next three shots, capped of by a exquisite baseline bank-shot by Rose.
With all the success for Rose and the Bulls in the first half, and despite the ugly shooting of Kyrie Irving, the Cavs were up 49-45. James was spectacular in the opening half with 13 points, seven boards, and four assists. Rose and Butler combined for 26 first-half points, which was more than half of their team’s points. They desperately needed a third contributor.
The third quarter started with Rose putting on a clinic of how to make bank shots, making one from each side, and one over Cavaliers monster, Timofey Mozgov. This must have finally sparked Mike Dunleavy of the Bulls who made his first three of the game after going 0-5 in the first half. Another stop by the Bulls led to a Rose three-pointer which gave the lead to the Bulls, and showed us Rose was engulfed fully in flames.
Taj Gibson erupted the crowd in Chicago with a gigantic put-back slam that tied the game at 57. The home team’s fans were rocking and momentum had suddenly swung back to the Bulls. Without even a thought after the slam by Gibson, Blatt took a timeout to distract the crowd. The timeout would not help. After a stop, Noah would throw down as big slam of his own, putting Chicago up again.
There was no way the crowd could be louder until Derek Rose set his feet in the lane and took a charge from the King. For what seems like the first time in LeBron’s career he was called for an offensive foul. The crowd became deafening. Not only that, but James rolled his ankle and the entire state of Ohio went silent.
LeBron was hobbled, the Bulls were up six, and two minutes remained in the third quarter. It seemed as good a time as any for Chicago to take the game and possibly put the series to bed.
Tony Snell would bury a three in the closing seconds to swell the Bulls lead to double-digits. Superior play by James would cut the lead to seven by quarter’s end, but more would need to be done to reverse the fate of the Cavs. Rose had 23 points heading into the final quarter and showed no signs of slowing down whatsoever. If Rose could not be contained, Cleveland would be in desperation mode heading back to the Quicken Loans Arena down three games to one.
The Cavaliers proved they were not going down in the series without one helluva fight, quickly cutting the lead to three off a pair of Mozgov made free throws. J.R. Smith would hit a three to make the game even at 68. A timeout for the Bulls with nine minutes to go would give fans at home at chance to grab at beer before a spectacular game would have as similarly entertaining finish.
Snell had definitely become the third player offensively the Bulls had been searching for all game. Smith would continue to help with a three to give his team the lead. Another Bulls timeout would be taken with the game starting to slip from their grasp.
Butler would tie the game out of the timeout. Smith did not like his thunder being stolen so he immediately responded with another three for the Cavs keeping their lead at three. The King returned with five minutes to go in the game, running the offense and blocking shots on the defensive side of the floor.
The most surprising player of the game was without doubt Timofey Mozgov. He constantly pulled in offensive rebounds, and made all of his high percentage shots. James was finding him more and more, and even if Mozgov didn’t have a shot he was finding the open teammate. One put back by Mozgov led to another Bulls timeout and a rare show of emotion.
Although James couldn’t buy a shot, his team was up six with three minutes left. This was all with the help of missed shots by the Bulls. It seemed as it there was a cover on the basket because even tip ins were not falling. That was until Rose hit a volume raising three, cutting the lead to three. James would answer with a bucket on the other end, quieting the crowd like a dad yelling at his children in the backseat.
With under a minute to go, the Cavs were up five off of the King’s willingness to bang his body, draw the foul and make his foul shots. No way magic would happen twice in consecutive games for Chicago, right? Magic began to manifest itself when Butler made made a three to make it a two-point game.
With a foul to give Chicago would give it with 21.2 left on the game clock and 18 seconds on the shot clock. If a miracle was going to happen again, it would need to start on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulls. It would happen as the official would call another offensive foul on James, setting off Armageddon.
More magic from Rose would tie the game with 8 seconds to go and no timeouts for the Cavs. James was fouled but there was no call and the ball went out of bounds off the Bulls with .8 seconds remaining on the clock. The Cavs had time for only a catch and shoot to prevent overtime from happening. Everyone knew where the ball was going.
Off the inbound and in the corner, LeBron James caught the rock, rose up, and let go a beauty of a shot. All that magic I referred to came about in the form of a jumper from the King…SWISH! A shot at the buzzer to tie the series at two games a piece as they head back to Cleveland for Game 5.
LeBron only making ten of 30 shots didn’t matter because the final one meant more than the rest. This was a wonderful encore to the buzzer beater in Game 3 by Rose. Could Game 5 bring the same magic for one of these teams?
At this point, watching and analyzing this series makes me more than LOVE what I do. A sincere thank you to both organizations for an astonishing series that only looks to get better.