This game set a record, in fact it took absolutely zero seconds to come up with this record: never has a playoff victory, in any sport, especially a series deciding victory, felt so bad, or left me with more questions, than tonight's victory does, and tonight, of all nights, rather than five seconds of an interview after the game with LeBron, TNT had to immediately switch to La-La Land for the mighty Lakers' game. Maybe you lucky ones in Ohio got to see a little post-game chat with LBJ, but here in Pa., at least...no such luck.
First off (and second off, and third off, as well) I want to know that LeBron will be able to go this weekend when we begin our second-round series against the Celtics. When it came down to LBJ shooting a free throw left-handed in the final ten seconds, the groans far outweighed the cheers, even as the Cavaliers pulled out an ugly 96-94 victory over the Chicago Bulls to capture their first-round series, four games to one.
All of the things that arise during a season to cast doubt on how far a team can really go arose tonight. There was, once again, atrocious foul shooting, especially in the first half for Cleveland...thank goodness that the Cavaliers' malaise at the line seemed to infect the Bulls, as well, especially down the stretch (except for Derrick Rose, who was as cool as a cucumber from the line).
And there was, in my humble opinion, a healthy dose of help from the referees, especially during a sequence wherein Brad Miller fouled Shaquille O'Neal twice within 15 seconds and had to leave the game, and then immediately afterward Joakim Noah got whistled going against Superman as well, before Shaq threw down a dunk. There was also a Derrick Rose twist and shoot after a foul was called that Reggie Miller insisted ad nauseum should have been a chance for a three-point play, but in all fairness, he shot the ball well after the foul and it was in no way a continuation.
What bothered me tonight more than anything was a seeming laissez-faire attitude to the performance, once the Cavaliers sprinted out to a 52-40 second quarter lead, a lack of killer-instinct that let the Bulls back into the game, allowed them to think that they had a real chance, and more importantly, completely extended our best player into having to play almost 44 minutes...against an eight-seed which, just two days earlier, had succumbed by 23 points at home to this same Cavs team. Even the TNT commentators likened the Cavs' effort to "a cat playing with a ball of yarn", as if they were simply toying with the Bulls. Well, guess what, if you toy too long, you sometimes get bit back when you discover that ball of yarn is concealing a spider. The kind of spider that can almost turn a 93-84 lead in the closing stages into a loss, the kind of spider that suddenly trailed by only one with over a minute to play.
I am not going to get into statistics tonight, as all relevant numbers are readily available by looking at a box score. I will say that Antawn Jamison was a world-beater tonight, especially in the first half when he dropped 20 on the Bulls, and I will say that it is a good thing that the Bulls are not much of a three-point shooting team, as the Cavs outscored them 30-6 on threes. And the Cavaliers' bench, led by Delonte West, quietly outscored the Bulls bench by eighteen.
So yes, hooray, the Cavs won and advanced to the next round, and hooray, part two, the next two games will also be at the Q...but all I can see and think about is #23 shooting a left-handed free throw, and barely moving his right arm at all as he made his way onto the floor to say adieu to a couple of Bulls.
Speaking of the Bulls...after all of the little animosities of this series, all of the humorous banter back and forth, and yes, even after Joakim Noah's ill-timed words of wisdom last weekend...after all that...good job, Bulls, good job for not quitting, good job for showing up for work tonight, and good job in taking "the best" right down to the last minute of the game, with two players fouled out. And last but not least...consider keeping Vinny Del Negro. He might not be the most popular guy in your front office, but he almost turned a sow's ear into a silk purse tonight, and four of the five games were close for a long, long time, including your one win.
When this victory starts feeling really good instead of ominous and bad, somebody please tell me...I wouldn't want to miss it. For, you see, this ancient mariner remembers another series, long, long ago, when we won and advanced to play the Boston Celtics. That series became known, in part, for the young 'uns who might not know it, as "The Miracle of Richfield", and right after it, all the highs of winning that series came crashing down when our starting center, Jim Chones, was injured during a practice, of all things, and the Cavs didn't have enough left to take the Celtics down.
So please, let me know when it is okay to feel really good about tonight's game.
In any event, Let's Go Cavs!!!