The Cleveland Cavaliers struggled throughout the first half of the season. Injuries and rotating parts were all major factors in that, but a lack of effort and inability to put together a complete effort magnified all the other issues. The Cavs had an opportunity Monday night to get a signature win against a division rival, and they did just that.
The game was sloppy at the start. The Cavs came out with a lot of purpose and were locked in on the defensive side of the floor. However, turnover issues prevented the team from capitalizing on their defense and extending the lead. Kevin Love was a key cog in the team's early attack. While his shot wasn't falling, the movement he created and the pressure he put on the defense opened up opportunities for the rest of the team. The poor shooting numbers for he and Tristan Thompson were exacerbated by second and third chances at the rim, due to their effort on the offensive glass. The effort was contagious and it showed itself on both sides of the court.
The Cavs were able to hold the Chicago Bulls to 39 points in the first half and the defense of Timofey Mozgov and Kyrie Irving was a major part of holding Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose to an abysmal shooting half.
The effort did not fade away in the second half. The Cavs continued to make the Bulls work for every bucket they got and keep their foot on their throats. While the Bulls were able to cut the lead to twelve in the fourth quarter, the Cavs responded with a series of quick buckets and stops that put the game away for good.
The Cavs continue their homestand against the Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets before facing the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. This is a prime opportunity for the team to continue their winning streak heading into Sunday's game. They must try to continue to build towards being the team they were expected to be and not take their foot off the gas.
Thoughts from the game:
- Kyrie Irving was absolutely sensational throughout the night. He competed on both ends of the floor and did a good job deciding when to shoot or pass. His passes seemed to actually result in assists for a change and he was able to get buckets when they were needed. 18 points and 12 assists is a pretty great line for Irving. There will be nights where he will be needed to score more, but it's great that he was able to recognize that this wasn't one of those nights.
- I alluded to it before, but Timofey Mozgov was special tonight. He was the defensive presence that the team wanted and did a good job contesting shots away from the rim as well. 15 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks and he showed off his range knocking down some midrange jumpers as well. While he still had a few awkward moments in the game, they couldn't ask much more from him.
- J.R. Smith is all of the fun. ALL OF IT. He hit 6 of his 9 three point attempts and was key in keeping the game out of reach. While he's bound to regress a little bit, he's an extremely talented scorer that appears to be focused in his new surroundings.
- While it wasn't his most dominating performance of the season, LeBron James managed to have a large, understated impact on the game. He finished with 26 points on 12/23 shooting against a defender he has struggled with traditionally in Jimmy Butler. He's very good at this sport.
- For the Bulls side of things, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol really had rough games; shooting 5/14 and 4/14 respectively. While Rose's struggles have been fairly common, Gasol seemed very disrupted by the size and length of Mozgov. While they missed the presence of Joakim Noah, the team has really been slumping lately and the duo of Noah and Gasol has been a disaster when playing together. They certainly have the talent to remain a threat come playoff time. But with them entering a tough portion of their schedule, now might be the time for the Cavs to catch up to them in the standings.
- This was fun.