No Kevin Love. No Kyrie Irving in the second half after a knee injury. No problem. The Cleveland Cavaliers controlled Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and earned themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. It is the fourth time in six years that a LeBron James led team has eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the playoffs. It will be the Cavs first appearance in the Conference Finals since 2008-09. It's James' fifth straight appearance there.
The Cavs defended like crazy in this game, and the Bulls, even with Pau Gasol back, could not get anything going. Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov- these guys worked so hard, and it was a complete team effort. The most telling stat in this game, aside from the final score, was the rebounding total. The Cavs had 53, the Bulls just 32.
Your Cleveland Cavaliers 94, the Chicago Bulls 73.
The Cavs shot under 42% from the field, but made 44% of their shots from distance. In a crucial third quarter run, Matthew Dellavedova stepped up in Irving's absence and scored at will for about four minutes. It was incredible, and it shocked the Bulls. Tristan Thompson worked Taj Gibson into foul trouble and gave him fits on the defensive end. The two worked together to help the Cavs maintain and ultimately extend the lead built in the first half.
LeBron James didn't have a great offensive game. He finished with 15 points on 23 shots. He had four turnovers. Midway through the third, he picked up his fourth foul. The Cavs' depth, much maligned, stepped up. Timofey Mozgov came up with backtaps to keep possessions going after misses. Thompson did what Thompson does. James hit just enough shots.
Thompson finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds. Dellavedova had 19 points on 11 shots. These two guys, doubted by NBA observers and Cavs fans for large portions of the last few years, were major players in the Cavs advancing in the playoffs.
We will have more to come, of course. Go Cavs.