Michael Walton II writes about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers have one of the fiercest rivalries in the NBA, one that dates back for the most part to the 1980s.
If the Bulls-Cavs rivalry has been overlooked in any way its in large part due to it being a lopsided rivalry defined by the success of the Jordan-era Bulls, but the LeBron era has definitely put a thorn in the Bulls side, plus the overarching LeBron vs. Chicago rivalry got a boost during James’ villainous years in Miami. So lets fast forward to 2015 and you can see how this Eastern Conference semifinal match-up can feel like an NBA Finals clash to the two franchises and cities involved.
Simply put, this series is huge.
The hugeness of this series is the reason that last night I almost had a heart attack at the tender age of 21. When Matthew Dellavadova lunged for a steal around the seven minute mark in the fourth quarter and crashed into Derrick Rose, I was instantly sick. I had flashbacks to of all the injuries and subsequent recoveries for Rose.
And then less than a minute later, Rose knocked in a silky-smooth jumper over Tristan Thompson.
The Bulls took the all-important home-court advantage in this series with a Game 1 victory at Quicken Loans Arena — Rose took some hits but his jumpers were more deadly. With home-court advantage a lesser factor than it already was in this series, the Bulls have proved with their play that they recognize how crucial it is that they take advantage of a wounded and short-benched Cavs squad.
Cleveland played out the most devastating series-clinching game of the first round when it finished its sweep of Boston, losing Kevin Love to the force of nature that was Kelly Olynyk and seeing J.R. Smith go J.R. Smith by getting himself suspended for the first two games of this series.
Losing Love and Smith is a deep slash for the Cavs but it could get deeper —
The Slash Bros.
I’ll admit, I stole this moniker from Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, but it is spot on. Derrick Rose now has the perfect running mate in Jimmy Butler, and because of that the Chicago Bulls are the closest they have been to a title since the Jordan era.
Butler is like a Swiss army knife on the court, he guards James better than anyone else in the NBA, he gives Rose a great kick-out option on his forays to the rim and he gets to the free throw line at a top-ten rate.
In Game 1 against the Cavs, Butler and Rose combined for 45 points, and more importantly, Rose was agile and aggressive while playing under control and committing only two turnovers.
Pau Gasol has had a career year with the Bulls, making the All-Star team while leading the league in double-doubles, but the crafty veteran struggled mightily this year against the Cavaliers. Gasol only averaged 14 points on 36 percent shooting during the regular season against Cleveland, this was mostly due to Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov causing trouble for Gasol and forcing him to use an attacked based on the perimeter.
This plan backfired Monday night for the Cavs as Gasol roasted David Blatt’s defense on the pick and pop play that saw Gasol shooting uncontested 15-footers all night. Gasol rode those jump shots to the tune of 21 points on 62% shooting.
If Gasol stays involved on offense no matter how Blatt tries to defend him, the Bulls are better off. If Blatt decides to stick a quicker defender on Gasol in Game 2, look for Tom Thibodeau to pound the ball inside to Gasol early and often as hell.
éléphant in the room
Joakim Noah is the heart and soul of this Chicago Bulls team. The guy was thought to be a bit of a reach for the Bulls back on his draft day and he’s since turned himself into a MVP-candidate and All-NBA first teamer in 2014 but in less than a year since his greatest season finished injuries have turned the player we know and love into a shell of his former self.
Noah just hasn’t looked right all year and it is obvious that he is still dealing with nagging injuries, but he has still managed to play decent defense while being a supreme rebounder and playmaker.
With all that being said, it is sad that people are getting used to stat lines like the one Noah put up yesterday: nine rebounds, four assists and zero points. Noah did end up finishing with a great plus/minus rating (+13), and his being on the court is always a tremendous boost for Chicago. Will it ever be a determining factor again is a suitable question.
Game 3: Cavaliers at Bulls, Friday, May 8 (7 p.m., ESPN)
Game 4: Cavaliers at Bulls, Sunday, May 10 (2:30 p.m., ABC)
*-Game 5: Bulls at Cavaliers, Tuesday, May 12 (TBD, TNT)
*-Game 6: Cavaliers at Bulls, Thursday, May 14 (TBD, ESPN)
*-Game 7: Bulls at Cavaliers, Sunday, May 17 (TBD, TNT)
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