The Bulls’ loss to the Cavaliers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference second-round series was tough to swallow. For much of the game, even through stretches where the Bulls struggled to score, it looked as though they were about to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Had they finished off the game, they’d have needed to win just one of the final three games of the series to advance.
But the Bulls’ offense went silent in the fourth quarter, and LeBron James drilled a long jumper at the buzzer that broke a tie and sent the Cavs back to Cleveland with an 86-84 win and a tied series. It felt like a massive lost opportunity for the Bulls, with James shooting 10-30 and Kyrie Irving shooting 2-10 from the field. Fans took to Twitter, and there were overreactions abound:
Well I'd say the Bulls will lose the series now
— Ian McIntyre (@Hurrican_Doug) May 10, 2015
The bulls needed this game smh they may lose this series 4-2
— i dont get tired (@CliffTebow) May 10, 2015
— Ryan Davis (@RyanDavisBP) May 10, 2015
Okay, you probably noticed that the last tweet was from me. Even I got sucked into it, as this was a pretty emotional loss. For the second straight game, Derrick Rose looked closer to the player he was four years ago than the player he has been since tearing his ACL. Rose is now averaging 25 points on 40 percent shooting in the series, and often has had stretches where he’s the best player on the court.
So are the Bulls doomed, now heading into a best-of-three with two of the games in Cleveland? I might have said yes, and then cried for an hour if you asked me that shortly after Game 4 ended. But I have three strong reasons why the Bulls aren’t done in this series.
1. The Dunleavy Effect
Rose and Jimmy Butler were basically the only players doing anything on offense in Game 4. Joakim Noah was terrible, shooting 4-12 from the field. However, Noah was actually the third-leading scorer, with eight points. Mike Dunleavy was 1-7 from the field and 1-4 from the three-point line, combining with Noah, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Tony Snell to shoot 28.8 percent from the floor.
It’s worth focusing on the Dunleavy stats. As I had written in a previous article, the Bulls are a different team when Dunleavy is contributing on the offensive end. During the regular season, the Bulls were 11-5 when he hit three or more three-pointers. In the playoffs, the Bulls are 6-0 when he hits three or more and 0-4 when he knocks down two or less. His ability to spread the floor changes the driving lanes for Rose and Butler, and if he had hit a few of his open looks in Game 4, the Bulls come away with a win.
If the Bulls’ supporting cast performs that poorly again and again in this series, they’re definitely going to lose. But they nearly got out of this game with a win, or at least sent it to overtime, with essentially zero offensive input from their supporting cast and their third-best player in street clothes on the bench.
2. Everyone on the Cavs is Hurt
Kevin Love is out with his shoulder injury, Iman Shumpert has a groin strain, Kyrie Irving has a foot strain and James sprained his ankle during Game 4. Irving labored through the game and has been a liability on both ends of the court. Considering that he played 41 minutes on that bad foot, plus the quick turnaround with Game 5 on Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine Irving recovering and performing well again soon.
LeBron stepped down sideways on his ankle in the process of running over Rose on a charging call, and it looked pretty nasty for a minute or so. James was able to shake it off and continue to play, although you’d be hard pressed to say that he played well after (or before) the injury. Sure, he hit the game-winner. But let’s wait and see if the ankle is a bit more troublesome after resting for a day or so and trying to warm back up again.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are still relatively fine on the injury front. Pau Gasol missed the game with a hamstring strain, but he could play in Game 5. That would again leave the Bulls with full availability of their roster (Gibson will play through a sore left knee), which allows them to play matchups and ride the hot hand without fear of wearing guys out.
3. LeBron Can’t Shake Jimmy Butler
Butler has really rattled LeBron in this series. He has performed poorly on offense, for his standards, and is shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 2-19 from beyond the arc. At times, his supporting cast has really bailed him out. With the Cavs trailing in the fourth quarter and the Bulls going through a cold spell where no one could knock down open jumpers, J.R. Smith knocked down three three-pointers to get the Cavs into the lead.
Even down the stretch, when the Cavs should have easily been able to put the game away, LeBron was called for an offensive foul when he was double-teamed by Butler and Dunleavy, allowing the Bulls to tie up the game. Of course, that eventually led to James’s game-winning jumper. But that one shot doesn’t change what happened during the rest of the game.
LeBron got a ton of help from the role players on his team in this one, with Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Smith combining to shoot 14-21 from the field. Going forward, James is going to need to step up and figure out how to beat Butler and play like the best player in the league, or the Bulls have every opportunity to win this series.
So while it may have felt awful for Bulls fans to watch their team let a victory and a commanding series lead slip through their fingers, all hope isn’t lost. The Bulls have a lot going for them right now, and they have a serious chance of winning this series. This series is nothing like the matchups with the Miami Heat from playoff series in the past, meaning the Cavs are vulnerable and in danger of losing this series.
And if a few Bulls role players can knock down some shots and LeBron continues to struggle against Butler, they will.