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-Cleveland Cavaliers series has shown that the basketball Gods can punish harshly but they can also be quite generous.
While it seemed that the Kevin Love injury and J.R. Smith’s two-game suspension would make what was expected to be a great series turn a little predictable, a throwback performance by LeBron James in Wednesday’s Game 2 has this Eastern Conference semi tied up 1-1 heading into tonight’s game in Chicago.
So far this series is unfolding in the way I expected. Tom Thibodeau is just like all coaches in the fact the he understands how important it is to snag one of the first two playoff games when you are the road team. With a team whose defense travels as well as the Bulls, it was no shock that they were able to hold James to 40 percent shooting en route to a seven-point victory.
The main culprit in the Cavs’ Game 1 failure was the fact that they had a bench that played like this. I mean, seriously, Monday the Cavs’ bench was outscored by Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Yes, LeBron did have nine assists in Game 1, but it was clear his influence was not doing enough. He was leaving — as TNT’s Chris Webber mentioned at least 1,000 times during Wednesday night’s broadcast — the second worst bench in the NBA playoffs to fend for themselves. The Bulls bench didn’t play that much better (a collective -22 plus/minus rating), but when four of your five starters score in double-figures, it doesn’t really matter.
Derrick Rose has seemingly rediscovered his form in time for this series, but LeBron has a history of coming back with a vengeance after losing game ones (see 2011 Eastern Conference Finals), and Game 2 of this year’s ECSF was no different.
The Air Up There….WAAAAY UP
LeBron spent most of Wednesday night’s game pretending he was running back kick returns on a football field. The Bulls defense was seemingly back-pedaling down the court every possession.
Jimmy Butler is the best LeBron-stopper this side of Kawhi Leonard, but James showed why he is one of the greatest players of all-time. He simply made mincemeat of the NBA’s newly crowned Most Improved Player. There was one play where LeBron went full “Monstars mode” and almost dunked Butler along with the basketball.
The Other James
James drew a ridiculous amount of attention, and was able to facilitate and find open shots for the Cavs’ shooters.
It was was about midway through the third quarter that I realized that when the commentators would say James Jones, that they were referring to die-hard LeBron James fan/teammate James Jones and not NFL free-agent receiver James Jones.
The NBA’s James Jones scored 17 points Wednesday and played average defense…which is actually more than you would expect to get from this James Jones.
I’m so upset that the Bulls let this guy gain some confidence in this series — he outscored Derrick Rose in Game 2. Derrick friggin’ Rose. I suggest for game two Thibs uses Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell more. If he can stick someone quick to Jones, we won’t have to worry about a guy who barely plays knocking down five 3-pointers.
Shoot the J! SHOOT IT!!!!
Pau Gasol has been a key cog in the Chicago Bulls excellent offense, and for a most of this year the Bulls offense sinks when he doesn’t play well.
In Game 1, Gasol provided great spacing out on the floor and he dragged Russian behemoth Timofey Mozgov away from the rim to open up driving lanes for the Slash Bros.
Gasol also took 13 perimeter jump shots, the sheer number of attempts keeps defenses honest and creates offensive rebounding opportunities. But when Gasol is hitting like he did in game one (he made 57% of those perimeter jumpers) it is almost impossible to stop the Bulls juggernaut.
In Game 2, Gasol did a complete 180, taking half as many shots as he did in Game 1. Gasol’s lack of aggression hurts Chicago a lot because of his relative lack of rim protection, he collects blocks because he is a skilled veteran who uses his length near the rim, but after watching James (LeBron, that is) repeatedly come barreling down the lane and finish as Gasol watched, I knew something had to change.
As much as I wanted to use this space to complain about Gasol not shooting enough, I would be remiss not to mention that this series will pretty much make or break Tom Thibodeau.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has shown that he has the flexibility to survive the uncertainty of the playoffs. He adjusted quickly and started Tristan Thompson (who always rebounds well against the Bulls) and called on a veteran who barely plays to provide an outside scoring threat.
Blatt has made his first big adjustment, now it’s on you Thibs. There is no telling whether Thibs will switch up his rotations or general strategy up, but it sure will be entertaining as hell to watch it all unfold.
Game 3: Cavaliers at Bulls, Tonight (7 p.m., ESPN)
Game 4: Cavaliers at Bulls, Sunday (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)
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; follow Michael on Twitter @ZenMasterMike