The team that’s drawn first blood has pushed their advantage in each game, deciding the game largely in the first six minutes of the game. (Though the Cavs fought back to a tie in Game 1 the effort sapped their energy and neither LeBron nor Irving scored again.) The difference in each game was the initial aggression of the Bulls and Cavaliers respectively.
The Bulls made four turnovers in the first three minutes to turn the tide on Wednesday, and before they knew it Chicago was down by 18, 24-6. On Monday it was the Cavaliers going down 21-7.
It’s possible the Cavaliers were still feeling things out during that first game, struggling to make the pieces that were left to fit. In the second game the Bulls looked happy to take a split home, and when the Cavs emerged from the locker room like the Tasmanian Devil, they stumbled like Elmer Fudd.
Cavaliers Coach David Blatt said there were things they could do to start better. “Obviously being ready and being aggressive from the get-go is one of them,” he said in tonight’s pregame presser. “But you can expect the same from Chicago.
“We just need to do a good job getting back on defense and forcing them to play under the pressure of good defenses and active bodies,” he said. “Going down to the other end and see what we can probe and get some easy ones and if not shoot the ball well.”
On the other side, Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau fielded questions about Noah’s lack of offensive production and Derrick Rose’s struggles.
“[Noah]’s missing some shots but you have to look at him in the totality; he’s still rebounding the ball well for us,” Thibodeau said. “There are other things he can do to help us win. He can bring his energy to our team get lost in activity and that’s when he’s at his best.”
Noah’s energy is such a big part of the Bulls play when absent it’s apparent. He hasn’t made many plays, and we’re expecting him to come out with great intensity, particularly on defense. On the other hand he’s only hit one of 14 free throws the entire playoffs and his offense is even worse than the Browns.
Rose, of course, is their other key star and he’s shot poorly so far, going 17-46, well below 40%. We wonder if the Bulls might try to put someone else on Kyrie Irving to reduce Rose’s responsibilities and leave him more energy for offense. The Bulls don’t have a lot of options this way, but Butler or Snell could do it, using their length on Irving while Taj Gibson uses his size to beat up on LeBron when the Cavs go small.
Of course, everything the Bulls have planned for to date was without J.R. Smith, who missed the first part of the series with a suspension for hitting Boston’s Jae Crowder in round one. Smith has shot below 40% so far in the playoffs and hasn’t looked very good offensively. (He’s still a surprisingly active on-ball defender, off-ball a bit less so.) We think the time off and the energy of the moment are jus the type of thing that J.R. Smith thrives on and we suspect he’s looking for some vindication.
Fifteen minutes before game time and Blatt still hasn’t announced the starters but Iman Shumpert is going to be playing after leaving Wednesday’s game with a groin strain. His defensive play helped key the victory with three first half steals and his energy is important to the defense. He will stat with Tristan Thompson
Smith and LeBron James showed up an hour early to shootaround to get some extra shots up so you know they’re thinking about being ready. The team got caught in traffic on the way to the arena, arriving late, but the key will be not arriving late once the game begins.
Look for the Cavaliers to keep attacking the paint and putting LeBron in the post. The goal isn’t so much to win the battle of the paint – though the Cavs did on Wednesday – its about collapsing the defense and opening up 3-pointers.
The Bulls will be looking to pack the paint and close-out the threes, but the indication is that they are willing to let the Cavs gunners shoot if they force the ball out of James and Irving’s hands.
For the Bulls look for them to pound the pick and roll and see if they can’t get the Cavs big men in foul trouble. Hasn’t happened yet, but it could be a key thing to watch.
We’ll be tweeting and posting video from the game from Chicago. We’ll also be at the postgame tweeting as well. You can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and read our analysis on the Scene blog tomorrow.