LeBron James has faced the Chicago Bulls in four of the last six postseasons. The first time was in 2010 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a series which the Cavaliers won 4-1. The next two times were with the Miami Heat, and both of those series ended in five games as well. Except in those two series, the Bulls won Game 1, only to lose the next four.
This season, James is back with his hometown Cavaliers, and his team has once again lost Game 1 of a playoff series against Chicago. Will James’s squad bounce back against the Bulls like the previous two series? Or will Chicago finally get over the LeBron hump?
The Cavaliers have a lot of talent and are certainly capable of going on a winning streak to turn around a series. But after losing Kevin Love for the playoffs and J.R. Smith for two games to suspension, their perimeter shooting is lacking. On the other hand, the Bulls, finally with a healthy Derrick Rose, are benefiting from the outside shooting of Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy. In Game 1, Gasol finished 10-of-16 from the field, with many uncontested mid-range jump shots. The speed of Rose often warrants a double team, which is what had Gasol so open in Game 1. Dunleavy added his touch from outside by going 3-of-4 from three.
The Bulls’ formula for victory is simple. Drive to the rim and attack on offense, which can lead to either easy buckets at the basket or those open jumpers. Second chances on offense are a common occurrence with the rebounding of Gasol and Joakim Noah, making up for any potential off-shooting nights. And most importantly, the gritty defense of the Bulls has made them a force for many years under head coach Tom Thibodeau. If you’re playing the Bulls, you’re in for a fight.
It’s a fight James is fully aware of and familiar with. On the Heat, James was able to overcome the superb defense of the Bulls with the help of other big-time players in crunch time. It was a crucial lesson James had to learn as a star; that no player can win championships on their own. It’s what morphed him from a big-time star to an NBA champion. James was able to turn to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or even the timely shooting of veterans like Shane Battier and Mike Miller.
In Game 1, James didn’t deliver down the stretch, failing on several key possessions. In order to regain momentum in this series, James has to deliver for the Cavaliers in a crucial Game 2. In front of the home crowd, this is arguably a must-win game with the series then shifting to Chicago for Games 3 and 4.
And in order for James to deliver, he also has to be able to depend on his teammates. Kyrie Irving played extremely well in Game 1, but like James, Irving didn’t contribute enough down the stretch. Smith won’t be back for Game 2, but when he returns in Game 3, the Cavaliers will need him to improve upon his erratic play from the first round and previous postseasons.
The statistic on James’s past record doesn’t apply to this series. The Cavaliers are without Love and might not have a good enough answer for Gasol and the rest of the Bulls’ offensive attack. But with the talent they have, and almost an impressive comeback in Game 1, it’s quite likely the Cavaliers will extend the series and make it a six or seven-game affair. At that point, anything can happen, and having the best player in the world on your side is a big plus in those situations.
But will they have enough against these Bulls? Things feel a bit different this time around.