We wanted to see what it was that allowed the Bulls to stay in a game that featured long stretches where the Cavaliers badly outplayed them. Typical loss of focus was the culprit as well as some hot shooting by the Bulls. We take a look at what happened and try to break it down.
Bulls First Quarter Break Out
Watching the game live it’s very hard to always have a good feel for what’s going on out there. We’re not as savvy as Campy or as awesome as Austin, so we have to go over a little tape. What it revealed was a bit shocking.
Going in we were under the impression the issue was that the Bulls were exploiting the Cavs in the pick-and-roll and it was Kyrie who was hurting them. But the issue was the rotations.
This isn’t the first time the team’s early game rotations haven’t been all that solid. In Game 1, the Bulls game out firing on all cylinders opening up a 13-2 lead in the game’s first five minutes. That’s certainly how it felt. The last two games in Chicago were back and forth, but this one started completely in the Bulls ledger.
The victim in almost all of the first five baskets was Tristan Thompson. It wasn’t always bad rotations, sometimes Taj Gibson simply took him. But it was an issue early on.
On the Bulls second possession LeBron James steers Butler toward the left baseline and his big, Timofey Mozgov. But when Moz-erati pulls over, Thompson does flash towards his man under the basket affording Joachim Noah the only kind of shot he can make these days: a slam.
The next possession the Bulls ran a middle pick-and-roll (PNR) with Rose and Noah. Mozgov backpedaled in the lane as Gibson, Tristan’s man, flashed to the top of the key. Tristan could’ve provided help at this point on Rose, but gets caught flat-footed apparently, allowing Rose to cast a floater over T-Mo.
Two Bulls possessions later, the roll man in a Rose/Gibson PNR catches the ball near the free throw line. Thompson has failed to rotate over off of Noah who is under the basket, the only place he can do some good for the Bulls. His slow rotation allows Gibson to elevate right over him. Very auspicious start for Thompson that results in a timeout by Blatt just 150 seconds into the game.
After that Blatt adjusted and put Mozgov on Noah. In this alignment, the Bulls got a post-up basket by Gibson, his third over Thompson (Taj went 1-7 rest of game), and this (below) Butler jumper off a Butler/Noah PNR that took advantage of Mozgov’s inability to challenge perimeter shooters.
The Cavs fought back by getting contributions from everyone. James stole a Rose pass and took it to the house. Shumpert and James hit jumpers. Irving somehow English’d in a layup in which he passed underneath the basket and was inches from touching the ground when he finally released it. Then J.R. Smith hit a dribble pull-up 3 and suddenly it was 22-17.
At this point Rose was still being played by Kyrie as the switch of Thompson and Mozgov’s men seemed to solve the issue for the most part. Then Rose simply beat Irving to his right for a baseline layin that would’ve been tough for Mozgov to contest even if he’d been on time.
This prompted another timeout and James came out of the ballgame. A moment later James Jones came in for Tristan Thompson and we saw the rarest of birds: Shumpert-oriented offense.
The fact that Shump’s offense is like the fourth or fifth thing on anyone’s mind since J.R.’s return probably shouldn’t be an issue, but in the previous two gams since Smith’s return Shumpert was 4-17 with as many assists as turnovers (1), five boards just one of them offensive.
It’s almost forgotten that Shumpert went 13-28 showing heretofore unseen offensive consistency across an entire game. Blatt said before the game that the idea of keep Shumpert in the game was to provide some continuity among other things. The more tentative offensive Shumpert of the last two games made you wonder if he felt the pressure of starting.
Perhaps to ease the situation, Coach David Blatt did one of those things that often goes unremarked. He took the final 135 seconds when James was on the bench and turned it into the get Shumpert shots segment as the Cavs ran him off screens and put him in PNR with Thompson.
Being the focal point seemed to serve Shumpert who not only scored twice but assisted on the other basket moving the ball to Irving after a couple offensive boards (including one by him) prolonged the possession. It worked so well it would appear likely to reappear on Thursday. He helped the team go on an 8-2 run to close the quarter, with LeBron on the bench.
Cavs Administer Second Quarter Beatdown
It’s hard to fathom how utterly the Cavaliers defense swallowed up the Bulls. Sure they outscored them 29-20, but the Bulls were only 3-21 after Aaron Brooks scored on Chicago’s open possession. Only their 12-13 showing at the line. They blew their whistle so much against the Cavs that the refs’ lips were beginning to look like Angelina Jolie’s.
Just as the Bulls has started the 1st so hot hitting 7 of 9, so too did Cavs to start the second while the Bulls languished at 1-7. Dunleavy’s ability to fall down in a way that suggests someone touched him helped on offense and defense, but nobody on the Bulls had more than a single bucket and they had as many turnovers as assists (2).
On offense it was all James scoring 16 pts and adding an assist to account for 18 of the team’s 29 points. He had several baskets off cuts as the roll man in PNR with Kyrie and Dellavedova. This willingness to operate without the ball makes it difficult on the Bulls to react to James and allows him toe operate with his momentum already established. They’d end the half up 10.
The third quarter start much like the first quarter. Rose hit one of only two post first-quarter baskets and Tristan Thompson spoofed the pass from LeBron on the PNR. On the resulting transition play Gibson posted up and scored over Thompson.
Then Thompson made a wild drive down the lane and threw a sad pass out to the arc that Dunleavy easily intercepted and fed up court for a Jimmy Butler basket. A time out followed, the Noah scored with a little half hook over LeBron on a play Thompson probably could’ve helped on.
But the Cavs followed with a nice PNR for Kyrie where the roll man Thompson trails coming down the lane to receive the backwards pass for the lay in. It’s a fine play particularly with Irving having trouble finishing because of his issues with his legs.
It went back and forth through much of the quarter as the Bulls pulled to within one and the Cavs pushed it back out to six. It went like that all quarter. Then just like the end of the first the Cavs closed the quarter on a mini 10-1 run that ended when Bulls Nikola Mirotic hit an improbably halfcourt shot to close the lead to 80-71.
Bulls Fourth Quarter Comeback
It was a 14-point game when Kyrie Irving converted a layup out of post-up with the retained possession after the Gibson Flagrant 2. The lead would reach 17 on this beautiful alley-oop to Tristan Thompson from Dellavedova
Mirotic converted an “and-1” then Butler hit two after being fouled by James. An Irving turnover led to more points the other direction. Yet with six and a half minutes left the Cavs had a 15 point-lead after James drained a 3 off an ISO stall.
That was the team’s last jump shot. The Cavs missed eight of their last nine shots and were only save by their ability to hit their free throws (7 of 8) down the stretch. Their last basket was a Tristan Thompson dunk with just under four minutes left.
From that point forward it was all Bulls, but they just didn’t have enough left to close the deal. They scored off of backdoor cuts as J.R. Smith was exploited backdoor by Dunleavy for this “and-1.” Somehow appropriate that Dunleavy is a real backdoor man.
LeBron settled for jump shots the next few minutes and they yielded nothing. A couple long threes aided by an offensive rebound yielded a long rebound that the Bulls converted into a Kirk Hinrich 3 and the lead was 9 with five minutes left.
Dunleavy got another 3 off an inbounds play. If you want to have a problem with Blatt how about the number of threes he’s yielded on inbounds plays. For all the scouting that gets done you’d think the team would have these sussed out and they might have some inbounds plays of their own. But what do we know (other than that Bulls like to run Dunleavy around a double pick to the corner).
When Thompson missed two free throws – reigniting the fear he’ll DeAndre Jordan a postseason victory away this year. A Noah basket cut it to 4. Anytime Noah scores we’re surprised so no worries there. Then after a couple James free throws the Cavs were again victimized by an inbounds play when Hinrich went back door on Kyrie and James went to help leaving his man Butler open for a 3.
Then Joey Crawford somehow missed a call directly in front of him when Hinrich seemed to push Delly causing the ball to go out-of-bounds off him. Just a lot of bad non-calls at the end of these games.
In all honesty, the three that Butler hit to pull the Bulls within two is all on LeBron. This two occurred off an inbounds play – the only useful part of the Bulls offense. Sort of like Leslie Knope in the Pawnee Parks Department. After following Butler through lane, James loses track of him for a second as Butler sprints to the 3 lines and Noah screens down to offer some interference.
Of course it did not matter as the Cavs grabbed enough offensive rebounds it didn’t matter if they hit the shots. All in all the Cavs halfcourt defense look fantastic. The only time they consistently got exploited was in transition and off of inbounds plays. Not sure why inbounds worked so well against the Cavs, you’d have to expect they’re well scouted.
As for Game 6 we’re not convinced there were many clues on Tuesday for what to expect on Thursday. However a few things did stand out.
1. Though Mozgov didn’t finish well, he took multiple good shots at the rim rolling to the basket, getting fouled on several occasions and winding up with no calls or offensive fouls.
2. The Cavs ran Shumpert in some PNR situations. This is something we saw from Smith in Game 4, but only saw a couple time from him. Shumpert on the other had was the focus during the first and again a couple times in the second half. His ability to beat the bigger, slower Bulls off the bounce and not get beat on the boards was a big part of the victory.
3. Irving was able to get a variety of open shots and make enough of his drives to keep the defense honest. He was moving much better than the last two games and while unable to finish seems to be listening to his body rather than dictating. We expect the Bulls to take away more of Irving’s jumpers and force him to finish. He’ll need to find his mates like he found a trailing Thompson.
4. Defensively, putting Mozgov on Noah caused a lot of problems for the Bulls as did when Thompson played at center with Delly. We’re not sure what it is, but there is something he brings to the floor aside from his scrap and ballhandling that has helped the Cavs hold it together when he’s on the floor. He played 18 minutes his most since the Bulls Game 2 cakewalk.
5. The Bulls came out focused and took a big lead but he Cavs didn’t blink. When focused in they can take the Bulls but begin to lose track of them for a moment and they’re back in the game. James turned his focus up not making a single turnover. The Cavs will need everyone focused to take the game in Chicago. It won’t be easy but the reward of a couple extra days off is well worth the effort.
We will be covering the game here in Cleveland tweeting and posting video. You can follow us @CRS_1ne.