Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2 Down, 14 To Go

I wrote yesterday that the Bulls would have to play a perfect game in order to beat the Cavaliers. And they damn near played a perfect game yesterday. 68 points from the trio of Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and the beloved Joakim Noah... 14 points off the bench from Flip Murray... they out-rebounded the Cavs... they had more assists than the Cavs... they only missed one free throw... and most importantly, they only had four turnovers. So how in the world did they not win this one? As my buddy Nicko said, the Cavs simply have an answer for everything.

That's not to say the Cavs played an outstanding game... we all know they have plenty left in the tank and they left a lot to be desired on the defensive end in this one. But let's look at some of the reasons they are able to win games like this:

1) LeBron James: Yesterday I mentioned how "Playoff LeBron" hadn't arrived yet. Well he showed up yesterday. 40 points on 23 shots. 16-for-23 from the field. 8 assists. 8 rebounds. A posterizing dunk and multiple fourth quarter dagger jumpers. It's nice to know that Playoff LeBron is there when we need him.

2) Hot shooting: The Cavs shot 56.3% from the floor last night. They went 50% from 3-point range, making 10 of them. And they were 22-for-24 from the free throw line - a welcome sight after so much struggling in that area during the regular season. Is it just me, or does Shaq look like he put in a ton of free throw practice? The big fella was 4-for-4 from the line. He's taking his time, bending his knees, and putting some more arc on his shot. It's enough to bring a tear to Mark Price's eye.

3) Jamario Moon: In a true example of just how deep this roster is, Moon did his part to ensure the Bulls wouldn't walk out of the Q with a split. This is a guy that has been stuck in the talented roster logjam all season. Of course he deserves more minutes, but where are they supposed to come from? He has never complained, has been the consummate teammate with his fun-loving antics, and has been outstanding in his limited role. Last night he answered the call and went 4-for-5 from outside the arc (his only shots in 20 minutes), getting the chance to show off his trademark "goosey" that has become so popular with the Cavs this year. He was a team-best +16 on the night and even added an insane block of a Noah shot in the 4th quarter that sent the crowd into a frenzy. I love it when bench guys stay ready and come up big when called upon.

4) Mike Brown: The guy has been endlessly ripped for his inability to coach on the fly in the playoffs. His in-game adjustments have been questionable in big playoff games in the past. But credit should be given to Coach for sticking with the proper line-up in the 4th quarter last night. He resisted the urge to re-insert starters Antawn Jamison, Shaq, and Anthony Parker and instead opted for the crunch-time mix of Mo/Delonte/Moon/LBJ/Varejao. That unit turned a 2-point lead into a 10-point win. And this game showed that Brown isn't afraid to make the proper adjusments when needed. Let's hope this trend continues.

5) Home court advantage: I've been to many playoff games at the Q over the last few years. The crowd intensity always builds as the rounds go on. But I think the atmosphere inside the Q for Games 1 & 2 was outstanding. I'm sure the Noah hate helped fuel that a bit, but still it's been impressive for an opening series. And I like how LeBron has learned to play it up when needed. He whipped the crowd up before the start of both halves last night and his "maestro" routine during the 4th quarter was a new one last night. The Q has become a huge advantage working in the Cavs favor, particularly the last two seasons. I expect that advantage to grow over the next few weeks.

And one more thing... I found it quite laughable to hear the TNT guys (particularly Barkley) commenting on last night's game. I flipped the TV on after returning home from the Q and caught the halftime blabber of the Jazz/Nuggets game. Barkley was going on and on about how the Cavs needed to incorporate Jamison and Mo Williams more in Game 2. He was complaining about how LeBron was just "settling" for those jumpers and those shots won't continue to go in. Newsflash Chuck: LeBron always takes what the defense gives him. If they sag off him and dare him to take those jumpers, he will. And he shot 50.3% during the regular season this year, showing off a much-improved midrange game. And that's the beauty of LeBron. He can beat you in so many different ways. Game 2 was just another way that it can happen. I guess it's easy to oversimplify things when you don't watch this team on a game-by-game basis. But as Cavs fans, we have the luxury of doing this and we know how LeBron operates. He's a surgeon waiting to slice open the defense. I can't wait to see what he's got in store for us for Game 3.

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