The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped Game 1 of their series with the Chicago Bulls 99-92 last night, getting off to a bad defensive start, as the Bulls shot 52.5 percent from the floor in the first half, while the Cavs shot 5-20 in the first quarter, got down 27-15, and never recovered from that first quarter deficit. There were plenty of reasons for the Bulls' offensive success. Mike Miller was atrocious on both ends. Pau Gasol kept getting left wide open on pick-n-pops for 16-foot jumpers. Mike Dunleavy went supernova in the first quarter. However, the Cavs weren't totally awful defensively, as they did some good things that, in future games, should be more successful than they were tonight. Let's run through five positive takeaways from the Cavs' defensive effort that could be important for the Cavs moving forward.
1. Make Jimmy Butler Work
Iman Shumpert did a good job of making Jimmy Butler earn his points. Butler scored 20, but they came on 16 shots, with only one basket coming from inside the paint. Shump kept Butler on the three-point line, and the Cavs were very willing to hedge the PNR to prevent Butler from getting into the paint, even if it meant that Butler was able to get decent looks from the perimeter. Butler went 4-9 on these opportunities last night, per NBA.com/stats, and that's something you'll live with, because Butler shot 39.1 percent on uncontested threes this year. If Shump's keeping him from getting points in the paint, instead making him work for outside jumpers, you'll take it, because he's much more dangerous if he's inside and drawing contact.
2. Don't Foul
Following up with that, limiting the Bulls' chances at the free throw line is huge for the Cavs going forward. I've preached all year that the Cavs' aversion to fouling is good, because it eliminates the chances opponents get for free points. Against the Bulls, that's especially true. Chicago was fourth in the league this year in free throw rate, at 30.4 percent, and got a lot of their offense from their ability to convert at the charity stripe (78.3 percent shooting as a team).
Last night, the Bulls got 16 free throw attempts, for a foul rate of 20 percent, and they only hit 9-16 to boot. Now, the Bulls' success from outside the paint factored into this, as Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose didn't really attack the paint at all to draw contact, but it's still something we know the Cavs can rely on, as they've done this all season. The Bulls, meanwhile, haven't been totally consistent from midrange with the exception of Gasol. Once those shots (Hopefully) stop falling, the Bulls will likely start trying to pound the ball inside and draw contact. I don't see that working well for them.
3. Play James Jones More
As the site's resident James Jones Superfan, I know this is a bit biased already, but I really thought Jones was great defensively last night. He played just 8 minutes, but in those 8 minutes he was consistently in good position, didn't shy away from the responsibility of banging with Joakim Noah, and generally didn't screw anything up. The same can't be said for Mike Miller, who played double the minutes Jones did, for some reason. The Cavs had a defensive rating of 145.7 in those 16 minutes compared to 119.0 for Jones's 8. Now, small sample size, etc., but really after tonight, I don't see much reason for Miller to play over Jones. It's the same issue as earlier in the season - neither is hitting threes right now, so might as well play the guy who at least looks like he has half an idea of the defensive game plan.
4. Disrupt Taj Gibson on the Offensive Glass
Gibson had seven offensive rebound chances last night and came away with two, one of which was a putback dunk on a fast break. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov did a great job of disrupting him on the glass and making his life miserable. There were at least four times in that game where Gibson ended up on the ground after a tussle with Thompson or Mozgov and the Cavs came away with a ball he had his hands on. If Gibson isn't having success on the offensive glass, it really hurts his effectiveness as an offensive player, making it harder for the Bulls to play him without Gasol, which disrupts their rotation. Thompson was up for the challenge in Game 1; if he can keep attacking Taj on the glass, that's going to be a big help for the Cavs.
5. Keep letting Derrick Rose Shoot from Outside
Rose is now shooting 39.1 percent from three in the playoffs, after tonight. He's never shot this well for a prolonged stretch like this. We keep hammering this point, but it's going to happen at some point. Rose is going to regress from deep. He has to. And if he's going to continue to shoot seven threes per game like he has this year in the playoffs, that's going to be something the Cavs can also live with, because he's sacrificing more efficient shots (8 attempts at the rim last night, no free throws) to keep taking threes. The Cavs struggled to defend the Rose/Gasol pick-n-pop last night, mainly because they were sagging back to prevent Rose from getting to the rim. If he's going to keep shooting the way he is, though, the Cavs will hopefully shift their coverage to account for Gasol, and that will hurt the overall effectiveness of the set.
The Cavs may have not been anywhere near perfect defensively in Game 1. However, their were some good signs. Ultimately, it comes down to the Bulls hitting a ton of uncontested shots (61.5 percent), and falling in love with outside jumpers, even if they sacrificed the shots inside and at the line that they relied on all season. The Cavs do have adjustments to make, such as the pick-n-pop coverage, but these five things are a good start towards winning the defensive war against Chicago, even if they lost this battle.