After getting blasted early and often by the Chicago Bulls on their home floor during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to make some major adjustments for Game 2. They couldn’t afford to completely hand over home-court advantage and fall into an 0-2 hole heading to Chicago for Games 3 and 4.
LeBron James knew it. On Tuesday, he talked to Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about “[changing his] mindset” and coming out more aggressively, something he said he doesn’t typically like to predetermine.
David Blatt knew it, too. After Mike Miller became a problem (and not the good kind) as a starter in Game 1, Blatt decided to match the Bulls’ size and gave Tristan Thompson the start at power forward, the young player’s first-ever playoff start.
Both moves paid off in a huge way, and the Cavaliers jumped all over the Bulls from the onset, jumping out to a 24-6 lead and a 38-18 lead after one quarter. Chicago never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way, and Cleveland basically cruised to a 106-91 win to tie the series at a game apiece.
James wasted no time getting to work and basically commandeered Cleveland’s entire offense in the first quarter, with 14 points on 5-7 FG and 4-5 FT to go with three assists. Meanwhile, Thompson was a huge part of the Cavs’ increased effectiveness in defending Chicago’s pick-and roll-attack that killed them during Game 1, and he pulled down a dozen rebounds as well, half of which were on the offensive end.
The pair of Cleveland forwards began the game with great energy and carried it throughout, while their teammates responded similarly. In fact, the Cavs’ first-quarter run was one-half of a pair of sequences that keyed their win over the Bulls.
LeBron lifts the Cavs to a ridiculous first-quarter. — Everyone except the Bulls seemed to know that LeBron was going to shift into Terminator mode for Game 2 and be ready to throw down big time, and if Chicago was expecting that, they apparently didn’t feel compelled to respond.
The Bulls looked sluggish early, turning the ball over seven times in the first quarter and looking equally as sloppy on defense. Cleveland stuck Pau Gasol in a lot of pick-and-rolls with James as the ball handler, and his dynamism set the tone. When he wasn’t bulling his way to the basket for tough hoops, he was kicking and skipping out to shooters who were ready to catch or shoot, and the Cavs’ decisiveness with the quick shot or extra pass made things extremely difficult on a Bulls defense that already looked a step slow. Led by a trio of threes from Iman Shumpert, Cleveland sank 5-6 three-pointers as a huge part of its 38-point first quarter barrage.
The pick-and-roll did Chicago no favors at the other end of the floor either. The combination of Derrick Rose and Gasol in the pick-and-roll caused Cleveland all kinds of problems in Game 1, but in Game 2, they stopped going under Rose’s screens and put a greater onus on their guard to stay in front of him. This made it easier for the Cavs’ big men to guard a tricky roll man like Gasol, and Rose couldn’t make them pay for the strategy, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-20 in another struggle of a game, something that has become a trend recently when he only has one day of rest.
Rose did have a brief stretch of brilliance during the third quarter, though, when he and Jimmy Butler tried to put the Bulls on their shoulders and launch a serious comeback.
No comeback in Cleveland for Chicago. — To their credit, Chicago did try to make a run back into this game in the third quarter, when a 14-0 run cut Cleveland’s lead to 11 points. Rose and Butler each had seven points in the period, and for the first time all evening, were converting opportunities close to the basket and forcing turnovers on defense. It looked like a classic Bulls run to get the other team in a funk and them back in the game.
Alas, it was not to be, and the Cavs immediately went small with James Jones, who promptly hit another three-pointer to push the lead back up to 15. It would stand at 16 points at the end of the third quarter thanks to some relentless takes to the rack from LeBron as well, who had 30 of his 33 points after three quarters and ensured that Cleveland’s cushion was going to remain comfortable until the final buzzer sounded.
It was disappointing to see the Bulls’ comeback attempt thwarted so easily, but that was kind of how this game went for them, as they looked like some of the lesser versions of this team that we’ve witnessed this season. They should have their energy back up for two huge home games in Games 3 and 4, and they’ll need to if they want to win this series. Each of last two times they played a LeBron-led teams in the playoffs, Chicago won Game 1 only to drop four straight. Here’s to hoping this third time is the charm in terms of bucking that trend.