Wednesday, April 21

Defending the home court

I managed to schlep myself all the way back from Europe for the Cavaliers game last night, a 112-102 victory at the Q that puts them up 2-0 in their opening-round matchup against the 8th-seeded Chicago Bulls. As I watched the game, I kept thinking one thing: the Bulls are really playing well. They had generally good offensive execution, were largely keeping the Cavaliers out of the paint, and got strong performances from Joakim Noah (25 points, 13 boards) and Derrick Rose (23 points, 8 assists). It's worth noting that those players posted the Bulls' two lowest +/- ratings, -15 and -13. The Bulls outrebounded the Cavaliers after getting mauled on the boards in Game 1. They turned the ball over just 4 times to Cleveland's 11 miscues. They attempted 22 more shots than the Cavs.

And they lost by 10.

That's how you can gauge how tough the Cavs are to beat - they withstand a strong performance from a scrappy Bulls team like that and still prevail. How did they do it? I'll give you the Keys to the Game, which is like AC's Carr Facts except after the game and not just a bunch of cliches:

1) Shooting the ball
2) LeBron James
3) LeBron James shooting the ball

Really, that's what it came down to - the Cavs just flat-out lit it up as a team and that's how they won the game. They blazed to 56.3% from the field, including 50% from deep and an uncharacteristic 91.7% at the free-throw line. After Orlando pulled that garbage on us more than once in last year's postseason, it's nice to be on this side of the three-point bonanza.

Leading the charge in an MVP-caliber performance was, of course, LeBron James. I wonder if my man Tim Povtak saw that game? I've decided I'm not stopping ripping on Povtak until I feel like it, not because of any arbitrary deadline. You write something that dumb, you keep getting hammered for it. Have fun casting that MVP ballot for someone else, dummy. LeBron was inhuman last night - he netted 40 points on all of 23 shots, 16 of which found the net (2-4 from deep) and all six of his foul shots. The Bulls dared him to shoot from deep and he destroyed them by doing just that. Oh, and he also had 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and just 2 turnovers. He's too good.

Support came from some key bench guys in the form of Delonte West and Jamario Moon. West sparked the Cavs when LeBron sat, scoring 7 points, dishing out 5 assists, and posting a sparkling +12. Jamario Moon came through huge in the 4th with 12 points on 4-of-5 from long range, a team-high +14, and some high-energy play culminating in an awesome block of Cleveland nemesis Noah. Interesting that the Cavs' crunch-time lineup of James, Mo Williams, West, Moon, and Varejao featured just two starters. Anytime you're sitting Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison in the final minutes of a contested game, you must have some depth.

I expect Game 3 to look much different from this one. The Bulls are not going to score 100 points, and they're not going to control the boards and flow of play like they did last night. I also don't think they're going to win, though stranger things have happened. That the Cavs will win this series is a given at this point; the only remaining suspense is whether they do so in four or five games. Hey, if they sweep then Noah doesn't have to come back to Cleveland, a scenario in which everybody wins.

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