After the Cleveland Cavaliers used a huge 25-13 second quarter to take a commanding 58-44 lead into halftime, LeBron James took a moment to recognize those most responsible for it:
LeBron in the tunnel on the way to the locker room at halftime: "Way to go, bench mob. Way to go, bench mob." CLE bench up 18-9 on CHI— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 15, 2015
The "bench mob" has been criticized for its lack of depth, quantitatively speaking, but last night showed itself to be a quality bunch nonetheless. The Cavs are certainly top-heavy, but it would be a mistake to assume that the drop in talent between the third and eighth members of the regular rotation necessarily equals a drop in production.
J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones each hit a three in the second quarter, but it was the Cavs' defense that truly set the tone. Delly, in particular, was marvelous after he stepped in for the injured Kyrie Irving, helping to limit Rose, Brooks and Hinrich to a combined 1-for-4 shooting line with just one assist. J.R. Smith joined Iman Shumpert in harassing Jimmy Butler and/or Mike Dunleavy, as the two of them combined for a 2-for-7 shooting line. Overall, the Bulls made just 6-of-19 shots in the second period. Curiously, Chicago only turned it over twice, suggesting that their offensive ineptitude had more to do with Cleveland's sound defense than their own carelessness.
As the third quarter began, just about everyone expected the Bulls to make a run. The Cavs have struggled to step on the gas after halftime, but in Game 6, that wasn't the case. While Cleveland made just 6-of-23 third quarter shots and Chicago technically "won" the quarter (16-to-15), the Cavs' relentless defense refused to allow the Bulls back into the game. Jimmy Butler went 4-for-8 and scored 12 points; his teammates combined to shoot 2-for-10 from the floor and got to the free throw line zero times. The 13-point lead Cleveland held at the end of three felt like 33.
The final quarter was particularly odd, a last stand by a coach likely on his way out juxtaposed with an Australian victory cigar. Twelve different Bulls players got minutes in the final period; all of them combined to barely (13 points) outscore Delly, who dropped 11 of his own points on 4-of-7 shooting. The Cavs' lead, which had ascended to double digits with 2:46 to go in the first half, peaked at 27 points before settling at 21 when the final buzzer sounded.
Dellavedova was at the postgame podium, as was LeBron James, who even on an "off night" finished just one rebound shy of a triple double. The third player up there was Tristan Thompson, who isn't technically part of the bench mob anymore (he's been a starter since Game 2), but whose game reflects what many value from role players. He rebounds, defends, and hustles like a madman. It was Tristan's monster first quarter that helped close an early seven point Bulls lead. This play was the most important of the bunch:
On the road, in a pivotal game, one of Cleveland's stars struggled and the other re-aggravated a nagging injury. Not only did the Cavs manage to pull it out, ensuring a little bit of a break before the Eastern Conference Finals begin, they were able to rest Kyrie while Iman Shumpert (who was AWESOME, by the way), Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and James Jones finished the Bulls off. It was an encouraging night from one of the most maligned bench groups in the postseason.
Eight more wins.