The Cleveland Cavaliers got back at it Thursday night, searching for their first win of the regular season against the Chicago Bulls and in the first game without Anderson Varejao as a member of the roster since 2004.
The Cavs came out with a pretty solid effort. While there were some hiccups early on, the Cavs were running their plays and running the court to start the game. On the other side of the court, Derrick Rose was turning back the clocks with a huge first half, 18 points on 7-12 shooting was a very unexpected output from the former MVP. He did it in unexpected ways two, netting two 3-pointers and a few other jumpers. Despite the Bulls' efforts, the Cavs were able to extend their lead to as many as 17 points before they let off the throttle and allowed to Bulls to cut the lead to 48-42 at the half. Unlike the last time these teams met up, the Cavs were able to win the rebounding battle in the first half 29-24. Rebounding is a big part of the Cavs identity and part of why they are able to withstand droughts or slumps while trying to change their offensive gameplan midseason. As long as they take care of the ball and continue to create extra possessions, they will afford themselves plenty of room for error as Tyronn Lue finds what works best for him.
In the second half, the Cavs were able to extend the lead and assert their will on the game. While they maintained around a 14 point lead for most of the second half, it never felt like Chicago was ever really that close. The ball kept moving and the balanced scoring attack was too much for the shorthanded Bulls. The Bulls cut the gap with a few meaningless points in garbage time and the Cavs came away with a 106-95 win.
Thoughts from the game
- Part of me wants to blame rust, part of me wants to blame the jerseys. But there was a bit of a disconnect with the Cavs tonight to start the game. The most obvious victim of whatever was ailing this team early on was Kyrie Irving. It seemed like the All-Star Break couldn't have came at a worse time for Irving, who was contributing 26.9 points and 6 assists a game on 56 percent shooting in his last eight games before the break. His sense of when to attack the basket, when to pull up or when to cycle the ball to his teammates was off. But given how he was playing before and how sharp his decision making was during that time, I'm not going to panic just yet. His decision making improved in the second half, but never really got his shot going.
- Despite some rust, the ball really moved well early on for the Cavs. They had 13 assists on their 21 made field goals in the first half. They finished the night with 21 assists on 42 field goals, not a bad mark for the evening.
- LeBron James, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love started their post-All-Star break campaign with a bang. All three were ultra-aggressive to start the game and applied constant pressure on the Bulls with their relentless pursuit of the ball. Thompson, in particular, stood out to me, partly because I'm biased and partly because you don't expect huge box score impact from him like the other two. He had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in his first thirteen minutes in the game. That's a significant impact from Thompson against a team he's given nightmares to in the past.
- Fine, here's more gushing about Love and LeBron. Love was surprisingly good coming off his shoulder injury scare with 15 points and 15 rebounds in just three quarters. LeBron was dominant and assertive, no doubt looking to make a statement against the rival Bulls.
- The Cavs core four combined for 75 points tonight. They're tough to beat when they come out with a balanced attack like this.
- Mozgov was noticeably spry tonight. Maybe the trade deadline passing will have a positive impact on him, given his problems with confidence throughout the year. While acquiring another wing would have been nice, it's still possible on the buyout market. It's unlikely that the Cavs would get equal value back for Mozgov and if he can find a way to produce 80 percent of what he was last season, the Cavs will be in an even better position come playoffs.