The Cleveland Cavaliers looked to right the ship Friday night as they went into the United Center to run with the Chicago Bulls. This was the first match up against their stiffest competition within the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are a good litmus test for the Cavs as they possess a considerable amount of size and are one of the best defensive units in the NBA. Not exactly the easiest team to try to face when you're trying to get your first win of the season.
Nobody has made money betting that LeBron James would have two bad games in a row. James was on a mission early in the game undressing Mike Dunleavy on several occasions. The unnecessary flair was evicted from his game, as he attacked the rim and found his teammates with bullet passes.
The Cavs big men also were a huge story early in the game. The Cavs had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half against one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA. Anderson Varejao, once again, was too much for Pau Gasol to handle. Tristan Thompson also had a phenomenal first half, collecting six offensive rebounds in the first half; to go along with eight points, two assists and a block. Thompson is capable of collecting a rebound in the middle of three opposing players, but tonight he seemed to realize that there are three guys around him and another man open elsewhere on the court. Two of his offensive boards were almost instantaneously converted into 3-poin maktes from James and Kevin Love.
Love had a tough time against the defense of Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. He has historically struggled against the Bulls franchise, but he still finds ways to be effective when he is covered well. He still provides spacing, rebounding and passing when his shot isn't going. But there's no denying how effective of a job the Bulls bigs did on the way to forcing him into a 1-7 shooting half.
The second half was tightly contested throughout. Kirk Heinrich went into god mode late knocking down clutch shot, after unlikely clutch shot. With the Cavs down three with under 30 seconds remaining, Irving drove to the rack and managed to draw a foul and convert the layup. After a Heinrich airball, the Cavs had a chance to win it with three seconds left. LeBron inbounded the ball to Kevin Love who was forced to take a contested three over Joakim Noah that drew iron.
LeBron was a terror in overtime. He is absolutely unstoppable driving to the rim and was simply too much for Chicago to contain. The other story was, again, Thompson. He continued to bring in offensive rebound after offensive rebound. When LeBron missed a jumper that would have put the Cavs up four with under 24 seconds in overtime, Thompson was there to bring it in and slam the dagger home with authority. I guess you could call this a Klutch possession?
The play helped seal the victory for the Cavaliers and deflated the Bulls. The Cavs ultimately came away from Chicago with a 114-108 victory. They'll head to Portland next, where they face another stiff challenge in the Trailblazers.
- It was good to see David Blatt utilize his bench early and often in this game. He wore his starters out in the home opener when he should have trusted in his bench. Thompson had an immediate impact off the bench and the starters looked fresher after getting breaks throughout the game. The Cavs have a deep team and many subs that compliment the starters well. Managing rotations properly will make this team a lot more difficult to contend with.
- LeBron James is really, really, really good at basketball. This was our first real look at a composed, focused LeBron. And it was glorious.
- Derrick Rose is also pretty fantastic. It is nice to see him at his athletic best. Neither he or Irving can defend one another, but this is not a unique thing among elite NBA point guards. Blatt experimented with putting the longer Marion on him at times. It's a look I'd like to see in a larger sample size. If Marion can replicate the disruption that LeBron's defense brings to Rose's game, without actually wearing out LeBron ... it would be a major game changer in this rivalry. Unfortunately Rose missed the closing minutes of the game due to a sprained ankle. Hopefully it won't be anything serious. But if he can stay on the court, he's one of the more exciting players to watch in the association.
- Kevin Love is still the best quarterback in Cleveland.
- Kirk Hinrich looks like vintage Kirk Hinrich. He's a pest on defense, really good shooter and capable of initiating the offense. He also was massive for Chicago in the closing minutes of the game, knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot. While Jimmy Butler does help bring more perimeter defense to Chicago's lineup, it also means fewer minutes with two guards capable of initiating the offense and less spacing. Butler obviously is a major help to that team, but it's something to look for in the future.
- Dion Waiters had a rough game. He faded on a few midrange jumpers when he had a lot more time than he thought. He also had a bit of tunnel vision on drives. Which lead to him driving into a crowd and being forced to make a decision in the air. While these didn't necessarily result in turnovers, it's something he needs to correct down the road.
- Tristan had himself a MONSTER game. He absolutely eviscerated Tony Snell with a block in the third quarter and was constantly displaying his motor. He was active the whole on the boards, tying a franchise record with 12 offensive rebounds. He was also much more decisive on the offensive side of the floor and finished with 16 points for his troubles. He is by no means polished on offense, but being decisive is already a huge step forward from last years over-thinking. His midrange jumper should never be a part of this teams offense though. He actually acted as a deterrent at the rim at multiple times throughout the night, affecting drives from Gasol and Snell most notably. He's never going to be Serge Ibaka at the rim, but every bit helps.
- Kyrie is still doing things that don't make sense:
- Same goes for you, LeBron...