It wasn't a thing of beauty, although it started out that way, but, as was said more than once in the game thread, a win is a win. Riding a strong first quarter, and then weathering a Bulls comeback which turned a 22-point lead into a seven-point advantage, the Cavaliers survived iffy three-point shooting and defeated the Chicago Bulls, 96-83, to take the first game of their Eastern Conference first-round match-up this afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
Chicago seemed out of their element in the first quarter, as the Cavs raced out to a 32-18 lead. Shaquille O'Neal, showing no rust from his long layoff, sparked the early effort, as LeBron James, returning from his own layoff, struggled a bit early. Stifling, turnover-causing defense led to easy baskets on the offensive end, and the Cavs went to the bench at the end of the first twelve-minutes after having played their finest quarter of basketball in weeks.
In the second, the offensive output waned a bit, but the D still was shutting down the Bulls, and by halftime the lead was fifteen, at 56-41. The Cavs boasted balanced scoring at the top of the board, with Antawn Jamison leading the way with 11, followed closely by LeBron and Mo Williams with ten apiece. Anderson Varejao was a force on the glass with eight first-half rebounds, and the game was only as close as it was because of Derrick Rose, who kept his team within striking distance with 14 points and 7 assists..
By the half the Cavs were shooting 51% from the field, several of them close-in baskets from Shaq. Three-point shooting was a less-than-sterling two of nine, but all in all, the Cavs looked to be in great shape and as if they could have their way inside with the Bulls all day.
In the third, Cleveland came out strong, and then seemed to fall in love with the three, and a scoring drought of over six minutes allowed the Bulls to trim what had once been a 68-46 lead to 68-58. LeBron stopped that madness with consecutive drives to the basket, making both shots and adding a free throw to push the lead back to fifteen. Cleveland still led, 73-60, entering the fourth.
The Bulls thrice crept within seven in the final period, the last time at 82-75, but a big three by Anthony Parker and another from Mo Williams kept Chicago at bay. The final exclamation point came on a James drive, score, and foul late in the fourth, and it was basically all over.
The Cavs were led by LeBron James's 24 points, as four of five starters finished in double figures. The exception, Anthony Parker, fell one shy, with nine, but his three, as noted above, helped to stifle the Bulls' attempt to fight all the way back. Derrick Rose did more than his part to lead Chicago with 28 points, 7 rebounds and ten assists...a fine effort for the Bulls second-year player. For Cleveland, Anderson Varejao kept up his rebounding pace in the second half, leading the way with 15, and Jamison chipped in with ten boards, as Cleveland dominated the glass, 50-38, including thirteen on the offensive end.. Mo Williams dished out ten assists, leading the Cavs to a 27-19 edge in that category
One of the big stories of the game might have been the Cavaliers 12 blocked shots, led by LeBron with four, including two of his trademark blocks-from-behind. It appeared as if the Bulls were reluctant to test the middle as the game went on, settling for mid-range jump shots. Chicago was almost non-existent from long range, going only one for seven in threes. Cleveland had an iffy afternoon as well from "downtown", going only 6 for 23, but it was enough...and a win is a win.
Game two in this best-of-seven series will be at the Q on Monday night at 8:00, as the Cavaliers will try to put an early stranglehold on this series.
Please look for CavsBlogger's take on game one later.