Saturday, April 17

That's how you start a series

I didn't get to watch it, but I monitored the live box score of Game 1 of the Cavaliers' opening-round series against the Chicago Bulls, a convincing 96-83 victory that quickly put to rest any concerns about rust among the well-rested Cavaliers. They jumped out to a commanding 32-18 lead after the first frame and maintained a cushion all game long, keeping the Bulls off the scoreboard enough to get the victory. It's Playoff time!

Defensively, the Cavs started out really strong, holding Chicago to a shooting percentage in the low 30's and just 18 points while having their way with them at the offensive end in the first frame. The Bulls did finish up with a 42.5% percentage for the game, probably higher than it needed to be, but overall a solid defensive effort for Cleveland. I'll take it.

One thing is apparent: Cleveland is simply too big for Chicago. Brad Miller, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson; these guys just can't handle Shaq, Z, Jamison, and Varejao. Consider that JJ Hickson started 70 games this year and played all of 40 seconds today - that's how deep and talented our frontline is. Some numbers:

- The Cavaliers outrebounded the Bulls 50-38, including a 13-7 advantage on offensive boards.

- Cleveland had a 37-22 advantage in frontcourt scoring.

- Anderson Varejao collected 15 rebounds off the bench, same as Miller, Noah, and Gibson combined.

- The Cavaliers blocked 12 Chicago shots and had just 4 rejected themselves.

The bottom line is that this series very much appears to be a mismatch, particularly up front.

So, what did NBA MVP LeBron James do after his much-publicized four games of rest that nearly destroyed the NBA? Just an efficient 24/6/5 on 19 shots and four blocked shots, good for a team-high +19 rating. I wonder if my man Tim Povtak watched that one. Antawn Jamison chipped in with a typically solid 15/10 game plus three blocks, while Mo Williams had an excellent offensive game with 19 points on just 14 shots, a playoff career-high 10 assists, and a +14. The Cavs' key players showed up bigtime today, including the welcome return of Shaq, who went 5-9 from the field for 12 points while collecting five rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes of work. Welcome back, big man.

The Bulls actually pulled to less than 10 in the fourth quarter; with all the Cavalier dominance I've described, how'd they manage that? For one, 18 turnovers, but more importantly: Derrick Rose.

The Bulls' terrific point guard hit for 28 points on 46% shooting, as well as 10 assists and seven rebounds. This guy can play, though the gaudy offensive numbers do need to be considered in the context of Mo Williams shredding him at the other end of the floor. Elsewhere, the Bulls got 10/8 from the hard-working Noah despite being worn out by the Cavs' imposing frontline and 12/6 from the erratic-shooting Luol Deng, who should spend less time arguing with LeBron and more working on hitting a J now and then.

Cleveland fans should be very pleased with the Cavs' opener today; they came out strong, worked hard, and established clearly that they are too strong for the Bulls. They seem healthy and motivated, based on what I could glean from the box and video highlights, and poised to advance easily to the second round. I'm a lot more optimistic about their chances on Monday than I am about my own chances to board an airplane headed for Ohio.

No comments: