After a downright lethargic first half, including a dismal 14-point second quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers tightened things up in the second half to comeback from a nine-point halftime deficit to defeat the visiting Chicago Bulls 97-89.
A Dominant Second Half
The Cavs sauntered out to a big lead in the road win against New Orleans, but they did not have that same first-half effort against Chicago. Cleveland was ice-cold shooting the basketball, Darius Garland had only three points in the first half on 1-6 shooting, and the usually tight defense looked like it had played a game less than 24-hours prior. Because they had.
But Cleveland clamped down in the second half, fueled by some better shooting and more active defense. They held the Bulls to just 15 points in the fourth quarter and went on a 17-4 run to pull away. Garland started to thaw as well, scoring 16 points in the second half. More on his game later. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping play was via some nifty handles from Ricky Rubio, who found Mitchell for a three-pointer that really kicked the crowd into gear:
A Tale of Two Garlands
To say that Garland did not have it in the first half is a gross understatement. Aside from a three-pointer late in the second quarter, he was almost entirely a non-factor for the Cavaliers. Passive, lackadaisical, just seemed like a zombie out on the court even from a passing perspective. The Cavs only 40 points in the first half, and a big reason for that was Garland having a really bizarre two quarters of play. The second half, however, was a different story.
You get some magic like that, where Garland puts just enough English on a tough fast break finish. He finished with 19 points and seven assists on 6/14 shooting, but it was far from a good game. Garland still had five turnovers, but the passivity in the first half was perhaps the biggest detriment. The Cavs did play a high-octane game less than 24 hours earlier, so there is a qualifier for this performance, but Garland played a really weird game. But the end result is a win.
Ricky Rubio in the Corner, and Pushing the Pace
Apparently, 23% of Ricky Rubio’s shot attempts come from beyond the arc in the corner per Cleaning the Glass. That is his highest rate of his career. To go along with this, more than half of all his shot attempts are from deep - also a career high per Cleaning the Glass. Interesting! It felt like every time I turned back to look at the game, there was a skip pass to Rubio in the corner. He failed to connect on any of those, or any basket at all tonight, but still made an impact with five assists and three steals.
Rubio had a +/- of +14, the highest of any Cavs player (Caris LeVert was a +13, second highest - make of that what you will). In the second half, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff trotted out a three guard lineup of Rubio with Donovan Mitchell and Garland and instantly the pace kicked way up. It may have helped that Rubio did not play against the New Orleans Pelicans the night before, but the offense really starting moving when he was paired with the star-studded backcourt. Considering how slow and milquetoast the team looked in the first half, the three-guard lineup was a kick to the system.
Hey There, Andre Drummond
We now interrupt this recap for a Shaqtin moment with Andre Drummond.
Perseverance is a Virtue
Perseverance is the key word to describe the win against Chicago. All in all, this is a game the Cavs really had no business winning. It seemed like a scheduled loss with the short turnaround, and really seemed like one after a putrid first half. They were out rebounded, out assisted, and out shot (49% versus Cleveland’s 42%). But the Cavs dug their heels in and ground out a win. On a night where the shooting was clearly not there, this was a true junkyard dog win.
The Cavs forced 22 turnovers (only scoring 21 points from them, something Bickerstaff cannot be happy with), and that proved to be the difference maker. All season long Cleveland has displayed active hands in passing lanes and on closeouts (the Cavs are actually third in the league in contested two-pointers and with on all shots), and that reared its head in the fourth quarter. The Bulls were stifled in the final frame, looked flustered trying to get anything going on offense, and, aside from a brief run late in the fourth quarter, looked frustrated with errant passes and missed shots. The Cavs stayed calm, persevered, and just out-willed a Chicago team that continues to be in the worst place in the NBA: basketball purgatory.
Up Next: The Cavaliers will play host to the San Antonio Spurs at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Monday, February 13 at 7 p.m.