Bulls beat Cavs 96-83, here are my ten thoughts.

  1. Have no doubt, this was a game  between two underachieving teams. People thought the Bulls would have a much better offense under Fred Hoiberg this season. Many thought the Cavs would be on a tear when they got healthy with David Blatt at the helm. Here is the difference: the Bulls have a coherent identity. They are a defensive powerhouse.
  2. Before I get to my complaints about the Cavaliers, it must be noted, the Bulls played excellent basketball. The latter dominated the former defensively. The Cavs’ big three shot 28.5% from the field, and their bench shot 21.4%. Part of this was a bad shooting night for the Cavs, however, they only passed the ball 220 times, down 86 from their season average. Nonetheless, the Bulls defense was able to shut down the Cavaliers’ potent offensive weapons.
  3. As noted previously, the Bulls identity stems from their defense. They have the best opponent field goal percentage (42.6%) and third best opponent eFG% (46.8%) in the association. This was in full effect tonight. The Bulls forced the Cavs to shoot 16.7% from the three point line, 37.2% overall, and the only player Chicago didn’t seem to have an answer for was Kevin Love.
  4. To re-enforce the previous point, new Bulls starter Taj Gibson is allowing 36% on post-up shots and 32.4% on isolation possessions. Tonight, his ability to switch on pick-and-rolls was crucial in completely stopping Kyrie Irving and making LeBron James inefficient.
  5. This leads me to my next contention. If the Cavaliers think they will have an easy path to the finals they are sorely mistaken. Last year there was between zero and one teams that could beat the Cavs in an Eastern Conference playoff series (Chicago). This year, though, the Cavs have matchup problems with the Bulls, Pistons, Raptors, and Heat. Additionally, unlike the Bulls, the Cavaliers have no identity. Following last season’s injuries, Cleveland became a defensively minded team, with four out of their top six players (Dellavedova, Shumpert, Thompson, and Mozgov) being defensive specialists. This season the team looks confused at what their identity actually is. Currently, the Cavs are a team loaded with specialists, both on offense (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson, and James Jones) and defensive specialists (Dellavedova, Shumpert, Thompson, and Mozgov) with very few overall good players (LeBron, JR Smith, and Anderson Varejao). Until new coach Tyronn Lue figures out how to mold this roster, and thus discover a cohesive identity, the Cavaliers will struggle to beat the best NBA teams.
  6. Compounding the aforementioned problem, the Cavaliers open games performing weak. In the first quarter of games this season, the Cavaliers have a point differential of zero. That is good for 13th in the NBA. This is not a stat any serious finals competitor should have. The team has enough talent to beat most teams even when they start poorly. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the Cavs do not have the talent to beat Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, Miami, San Antonio, or Golden State when they start poorly. These teams have size and this allows them to double on isolation possessions without giving up open shots. As evidence, against those teams this season, the Cavs’ record is 2-8.
  7. I am a lifelong Cavs fan. More importantly, though, I am a lifelong NBA fan. Hence what I am about to say pains me. The last game where I can say I enjoyed watching the Cavs play was against Oklahoma City. Let me be clear, I always will love the Cavs and will watch every game possible. But I watch a lot of basketball, and the Cavaliers have not been entertaining this season. This team is complacent and do not play well against their primary competition.This is why I did not strictly oppose the coaching change. Tyronn Lue said in his post-game press conference that the Cavs got exhausted from the fast pace early, and could not recover the rest of the game.  This is absolutely a possibility, and maybe things will get worse before they get better, but one can’t help feel concerned for the team’s long-term success after watching their performance tonight.
  8. Here is the one benefit for the Cavs tonight: most of the game they used Kevin Love correctly. He was the only player to shoot at least 50%, and had 14 points throughout the first three quarters. He was held scoreless in the fourth, and while his post game could have provided the Cavs easy buckets, this was a function of the mass deficit the Cavs had entering the quarter.
  9. Back to the Bulls, Pau Gasol was absolutely the player of the night. I recently wrote about how the Spaniard can still positively impact a basketball game, and tonight it rang true. He had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists throughout the game; moreover, he nearly single-handedly beat the Cavs in the fourth quarter when he ended a Cleveland 9-2 run with 5:31 remaining. If the Bulls hope to compete for a title this season they will need to rely on the strong two-man game of Butler and Gasol. People forget, but Pau was injured during the Cavs-Bulls series last year, missing two games. Consequently, if Cleveland wants to repeat their victory in the East, they will need to figure out how to defend this offense.
  10. This is perhaps the Bulls’ best win of the season. Their identity was clear and effective. Furthermore, it entirely mitigated their offensive liabilities. For NBA fans, I hope that the Bulls continue this play. Adding another true Eastern Conference contender could lead to another great NBA playoffs. With all of the above said, I am still betting on Tyronn Lue’s system kicking in, the Cavs figuring out their offensive and defensive woes, and Cleveland returning to the NBA finals.



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