For a quarter and a half, watching the Cavaliers take on the Bulls was once again like pulling teeth. Finally, at long last, with 4:52 left in the first half and the Cavaliers trailing 43-40, the team flipped the switch. The defensive intensity rose, the rebounding effort peaked, and even free throws started going in. The Bulls would only make 3 more FGs that half, and the Cavaliers would ride the momentum to a 121-98 statement over the Bulls. What follows is my analysis in numbers and words.
– Today’s quote comes from former German president Richard von Weizsäcker who once said “Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.” This pretty much sums up what happened in this game. The prospect of exile from the NBA Playoffs was becoming more real the longer the Cavaliers tried to ignore their problems. In this game, they finally seemed to accept what was happening, and they proactively did something about it. It was refreshing to see as a fan, and I can only imagine the relief Mike Brown must feel as his team finally played a full game and exerted their will on a game. I was extremely critical of the team after Game 3, so I must give them equal credit for the way they played in Game 4.
– We start today with LeBron James. 37 points (on 17 shots!!!), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 1 block. He was 11-17 from the field, 6-9 from three, and 9-10 from the FT line. So, to recap, over the last 3 games LeBron is averaging 38.67 points, 10.00 rebounds, and 9.00 assists per game. We are truly in the midst of something special. This is the prime of LeBron’s career, and we are watching a man play this game at historic levels. May we never take it for granted or lose sight of this fact even in the wake of disappointing play by the rest of the team. Some have said they think LeBron will average a triple double for a season. I disagree and don’t think LeBron cares enough about the regular season to do so. But it would not surprise me if he averages a triple double for the playoffs at some point in his career. Maybe this one.
– The Cavs really played well as a team on offense in this one. 5 players in double figures, three with 19+. Delonte did his usual thing, but in this game Anthony Parker and JJ Hickson really stepped up with 12 and 10 respectively. Last game the Cavs bench only took 8 shots. They took 22 in this game and had 24 points. Sure, they got more garbage time minutes, but that’s kind of the point.
– The key to this one was really the defensive lockdown. The Cavs held the Bulls to just 37.4% shooting from the floor. The Bulls had just 14 assists to 14 turnovers, a major improvement for the Cavs defense compared to the last couple games. The biggest difference, though, was points in the paint. After getting destroyed there the last 2 games, the Cavs finally locked down the paint better and won the PIP edge 40-34. Anderson Varejao may have had just 3 points and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes, but he was +14 in this game mostly because of the way he was effective in defending the paint. He was active on the help rotations and he was all over the place, making inside shots difficult for the Bulls. The Bulls were just 14-30 on “layups” in this game, and that’s because of how heavily the Cavs were contesting every shot inside.
– In his postgame press conference, Antawn Jamison mentioned he came into the game wanting to mix up his shot more than he did last game when he went 1-6 from three. He was definitely successful. He was using pretty much every shot in his arsenal in this one, mixing up inside up-and-under moves with some timely outside jump shots. Jamison was 4-6 on layups and 5-10 on jumpers. I would have liked to have seen him get a few more rebounds, but none the less, Jamison continues to be exactly what the Cavs need him to be. 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots.
– At one point in this game, the Cavaliers were a mere 4-10 from the free throw line. Somehow they ended up 25-34 from the line for 73.5%. Free throw shooting is my #2 concern for this team, right behind defensive intensity. They allowed the game to remain close early on by shooting so poorly from the line. Thankfully, starting in the late part of the 2nd quarter, the Cavaliers starting making their FTs and it helped them maintain their lead and not let the Bulls start chipping away.
– Speaking of which, I have long been critical of this team’s killer instinct. They often tend to take their foot off the proverbial gas pedal whenever they build a comfortable lead. I was curious to see how they would react to closing out the 2nd quarter strong and taking a 10 point lead into the half. The followed up their 38 point 2nd quarter with a 37 point 3rd quarter while holding the Bulls to just 24. They came out strong, not letting the Bulls score any points for the first 3 minutes and not giving up a FG to the Bulls until Derrick Rose finally hit a shot with 8:02 left in the quarter. At that point, 4 minutes into the quarter, the Cavs had built the lead up to 74-58 and they would never look back. It was definitely encouraging to see.
– While the Cavs out shot the Bulls in eFG% by a .608 to .396 margin, the Bulls did manage to once again dominate on the glass. The Bulls had 17 offensive rebounds leading to 24 second chance points while the Cavaliers had just 5 offensive boards and 10 second chance points. Granted, the Bulls had a lot more opportunity for offensive boards than the Cavs did as evidenced by the shooting disparity, but it should be pointed out that the Bulls dominated the Cavaliers in ORB% by a 32.1% to 13.5% margin. If there’s really anything to complain about in this game, it’s the rebounding edge. Varejao has to have more than just 3 rebounds in 20 minutes. That’s pretty unacceptable.
– I would be remiss if I didn’t mention JJ Hickson’s contribution to this game. Some early foul trouble for Shaq and Andy created a window of opportunity for JJ to get some time, and Mike Brown finally took it and let JJ play meaningful minutes. He wasn’t always effective or impactful, but his energy and activity seemed to loosen up the offense. JJ also immediately drew a charge on Joakim Noah and it seemed to spark the energy level on the 2nd unit. Hickson’s stats may not stand out, but I’ll have a post later this week about Hickson’s role on the team and why he needs to be playing more. This game was evidence of what he does to the team, but I’ll save the details for later.
– One of the major talking points heading into this game was how the Cavs were going to defend Derrick Rose. I’ve been harsh on Anthony Parker’s defense this year, but in this game he drew the assignment and did an admirable job. Rather than letting Rose get into the lane at the point of attack, Parker routinely forced Rose into the direction of the waiting bigs who moved over in their help rotations. Credit to Mike Brown for getting his frontcourt players to be more alert and crisp in their rotations on defense, as it seemed every time Rose tried to turn the corner there was a forward charging out at him. A lot of it was Anderson Varejao, but even Antawn Jamison did an excellent job coming over in help in this game. With LeBron locking down Luol Deng and Mo shadowing Hinrich, it left the 2 power forwards/centers to be the ones coming over in their help assignments, and they made Rose take difficult layups rather than the easy drives he had in Games 2 and 3. Sure Rose still had 21 points, but it was on 20 shots (LeBron had 37 points on 3 fewer shots). He was 6-10 on layups and 3-10 on jumpers. People can complain about Mike Brown all they want, but he came out with a great defensive adjustment in this game.
– Finally, no player has earned my respect in this series more than Joakim Noah. No, I don’t like him at all and I can’t stand the way he runs his mouth, but he at least backs it up with his play on the court. A 21 point and 20 rebound game for Noah stands as one of the better games I can ever recall a player having against the Cavaliers in the postseason. Even as much as Dwight Howard terrorized the Cavs frontcourt in the Eastern Conference Finals last year he never had a 20 rebound game. I used to think that Noah was a poor man’s Anderson Varejao, but I now realize that he is most definitely a filthy rich man’s Anderson Varejao. Noah may still be a work in progress, too, as this is still just his 3rd season in the NBA. I may dislike him greatly, but if he was on the Cavaliers, we would all absolutely love this guy for the way he plays and effort he gives on the court.
What The Internet Is Saying
For the love of all that is holy, LeBron. Antawn Jamison all but said LeBron showed up to the arena looking like he wanted to pick up an armored car with his bare hands and use it to tear down the arena after dominating the game and before salting the ground where the arena once stood so that nothing could ever grow there again. I may be exaggerating somewhat, but that’s how LeBron played on Sunday.
This is about as close as it gets to a perfect game. His passing was on target all game and he never forced anything. He took the ball hard to the cup, took contact, and drained nine of his 10 free throws. He was the only player in the Cavs with 10 or more rebounds. (Maybe that was a problem.) He only turned it over twice, and one of those was his sleeve’s fault. He played good defense on Deng and completely locked him down a few times. [Cavs: The Blog – John Krolik]
This time Brown put Anthony Parker, who is six inches taller than Mo Williams, on Bulls star Derrick Rose for stretches. Parker’s size made it harder for Rose to get clean looks on jumpers and the Cavs were more active defending Rose near the rim.
Rose got 21 points, but needed 20 shots to get there. In addition, after being hot in Game 3, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich found more hands in their faces and harder going. That duo settled for just 10-of-30 shooting and 26 total points. Put all of that together and it added up to the Bulls shooting just 37 percent as a team. [Plain Dealer – Brian Windhorst]
Forgetting about his needless comments over the last week, this series has been a coming-out party for Joakim Noah. He was having a great season before a foot injury ruined his second half. He’s back to 100 percent and he’s showing that he can be a top-shelf big man in the league. That isn’t what anyone thought when he was drafted; he was thought to be an energy player with limited game. That isn’t true and he’s showing it. He had a great Game 4 with the first 20/20 game in Bulls playoff history.
Along those lines, Noah has been whipping Andy Varejao. They are not head-to-head all the time so comparing stats isn’t totally fair. But let’s compare anyway. After Varejao’s great Game 1, he’s been well below his standard while Noah has been fantastic. Over the last three games Varejao has a total of 11 rebounds including just three Sunday. In the same span, Noah has 48. [Plain Dealer – Brian Windhorst]
Coach Mike was decent (or even good). Throughout Brown’s tenure as Cavs coach, Cleveland hasn’t always played the best third quarters. But on Sunday afternoon, the Cavs came out of halftime focused and destroyed Chicago by a count of 37-24. Then in the fourth, when the Bulls cut the 24 point deficit to 19, Brown subbed in LeBron and let King James bury the Bulls. James played five minutes in the final period and record 9 points, an assist and grabbed 3 boards. Brown let’s LeBron sit and maybe the Bulls cut it down to 15 or less and make it a ballgame. [Random Thoughts – Ben Cox]
Whether we want to admit it or not as Cavs fans, there’s nothing more that anyone can do to make this team win…they just have to take the court and win. Sunday they did win, and the reasons are as simple as ‘see hoop, make basket.’ Instead of shooting the 35 three-pointers they took in game three (14 of 35), this time the Cavaliers only elected to shoot 25 – and made 12 of them. [Stepien Rules – Brendan Bowers]
The Cavaliers made a statement — we are the team to beat, we are the favorites for the title, we have the best player walking the planet, and we have no use for you little Bulls. Cavs 121, Bulls 98. Next.
Well, technically Cleveland still has to win one more before next (Boston). But that seems a mere formality coming in game five. The Cavaliers didn’t just beat the Bulls, they demoralized them. Cavs coach Mike Brown left LeBron in surprisingly deep into the fourth quarter for just that reason — the Bulls had cut the lead to less than 20, and the Cavaliers wanted to let them know, LeBron wanted to let them know, who was in charge. Just a little reminder for the days off until Tuesday. [ProBasketballTalk – Kurt Helin]
What The Players and Coaches Are Saying
Last year we had no obstacles early, we won eight straight. That loss tested us and we had to see if we would stay together and come out and play hard and win. I’ve told these guys we need to have a bunker mentality, there are going to be ups and downs. Staying together like we did is how we won. [Mike Brown]
[Antawn Jamison] was great, he was the X factor. It’s hard to cover him. He goes around 3’s and over 4’s. I’m glad he is on our side because I have been on the other side of him for years. [LeBron James]
After game three our team in general was very frustrated. We put ourselves in a difficult position, we did a nice job making it close at the end. We could not afford to let a team like this gain momentum and confidence. We saw what they did against Boston last year in the first round, we knew we had to keep loading up the middle. They had four or five guys in double figures, we knew we had to buckle down. LeBron and Shaq did a great job as far as setting the tone. Shaq took a couple of hard fouls and LeBron did a great job playing defense all over the place. When you have your two Hall of Famers doing that, it trickles down to the rest of the team. [Antawn Jamison]
LeBron gets to the middle of the court and they shoot the corner 3 very well. If you don’t help out, LeBron is going to get to the basket or dump it off to their wide open shooters. We had been doing a good job of keeping them from the middle. Their other guys made some plays. You have to give Cleveland credit. Mo Williams was very solid for them. What it came down to was we were not very efficient offensively. [Vinny Del Negro]
They were switching up people and putting a lot of different people on me. If anything, they just out-hustled us today. [Derrick Rose]
I just think we weren’t very tough mentally today. We were playing good ball and then just collapsed. We’re a young tame and have to learn from this. When things are not going our way, we can’t put our heads down. Tonight we just broke down when things were not going our way. We have to get stops and play our game and when we didn’t we had our heads down. That includes me as I have to bring the energy. It wasn’t good tonight especially playing in front of our home crowd to have a performance like this is disappointing. [Joakim Noah]
Photo Credit: (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)