The Cavaliers did what it took to win Game 1 over the Bulls Saturday. It was pretty, wasn't text book, and certainly wasn't the best we've seen from the Wine and Gold, but that might just be the point this year. The Cavaliers look ready to do whatever it takes to win 16 games before anyone else does. That, of course, would mean the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship. There are going to be ugly games. Even so, the Cavs still beat the Bulls by 13 in a game that really never seemed in doubt.
That doesn't mean there aren't questions to be answered. Unlike last season when the Detroit Pistons were a shell of their former selves, this Bulls team is scrappy enough - and talented enough - to give the Cavaliers a true workout in the first round. Even if it is 4 or 5 games.
The Bulls have promised to be more physical in Game 2. A sound strategy, but I don't know how effective it can be. The Bulls are undersized, especially up front, but they are out-manned as well. Each of Chicago's 5 starters played at least 33 minutes. Joakim Noah played a foul-plagued 35 minutes. While he provides the Bulls with much the same energy that Anderson Varejao provided the Cavaliers, it has to be tough to go against Shaquille O'Neal for 25 minutes, Varejao for 32 minutes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas for 9. The Cavaliers have an endless assortment of big men that can shuffle in and out of the lineup. It is that depth that will counter any 'toughness' and 'effort' the Bulls bring tonight.
Of course, some of that can be cancelled out should Derek Rose start to attack the rim. Rose seemed to avoid contact in Game 1. He has vowed to get to the free throw line tonight. That serves two purposes for the Bulls. It is hard to get into a rhythm during a 'dirty' game. I don't mean cheap-shot dirty. I mean a game with a ton of whistles and fouls. It would also get the Cavaliers' big men in foul trouble. Nothing takes the energy out of a crowd like the steady procession to the free throw line by an opponent.
I'll go out on a limb, too, and say the Bulls will get a contribution from someone other that Rose as well. Can the Cavaliers count on Luol Deng(5-15, 12 points) and Kirk Hinrich(4-10, 8 points) to struggle as much as they did in Game 1? Even with Deng's nagging injuries, he is dangerous. Flip Murray can go off as well. The Cavaliers need to keep up the defensive intensity.
Mo Williams had a solid Game 1, something that will need to continue. Williams is no match for Derek Rose on the defensive end so he needs to counter some of Rose's points by being aggressive on the offensive end. Williams did that on Saturday, scoring 19 points while dishing out a career playoff-high 10 assists. Rose is the Bulls best option, while Williams is likely the 4th option offensively right now behind LeBron, Shaq and Jamison. If Williams can continue to provide those types of numbers, Rose will not be able to overcome by himself.
The Cavaliers also fell into some old, bad, habits. Up 22 early in the 3rd Quarter, the Cavs began doing what we have seen from them in the past. They started rushing possessions. They started to attempt high-risk passes, and began to settle for jumpshots. The result? 15 possessions, 6 turnovers and 5 missed 3's. The Cavaliers did not attack the basket for nearly 9 minutes of the 3rd Quarter. That allowed Chicago to get transition baskets - which allowed them to get back into a game they had no business being involved in.
The Cavs have done this in the past - both this season and last year in the playoffs. Against the Bulls, they can get away with it. As we saw against Orlando, however, those mistakes will burn you. Lest we forget that the Cavaliers had 20-point+ leads over Orlando in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They lost Game 1 and needed a miracle LeBron James shot to win Game 2. By then, however, the damage was done. Orlando was confident they could take the Cavaliers' best shot and still win.
The Bulls simply don't have the offense to match the Cavaliers - especially in Cleveland. That said, there is no reason to allow the Bulls to hang around any longer than necessary. That starts tonight in Game 2. Since Joakim Noah hates Cleveland so much, let's make sure he doesn't need to comeback until November or December.