In many respects, the Bulls played as good as they're going to in this series. And maybe better than they've played all season.
With only 4 turnovers all game, the Bulls nearly broke a playoff record. Coupling that with dominating the offensive glass (a Bulls staple when they win, since they'll rarely shoot well but can at least clean up the misses) and the Bulls offensive efficiency tonight was better than all but 9 games they played in the entire season.
But unfortunately for the Bulls tonight, the Cavs put on an unbelievable offensive performance of their own, punctuated at the end by LeBron James going 1-on-5 farther and farther from the basket and it not mattering at all. With the Bulls hanging around the entire game I was excited for the prospect of James getting too jumper-happy and shooting the Cavs out of the game. It seemed like whenever James would hit some long impressive jumper the Bulls would be right back with Deng or Taj laying it in or Noah dunking, and eventually the jumpers are the shots that stop connecting. But it never stopped, not from James nor Jamario Moon, who hit several key three-pointers late.
The Cavs as a team were more in line with their usual proficiency behind the arc (actually a little better than that, 50% on the night), and it's not surprising given how unbelievably wide open they are. There were some rotation miscues on the Bulls part, but overall I thought these were similar to the shots that the Cavs simply missed in game one.
The plan was still to to limit James, and whether it was another solid effort from Luol Deng, switching it up with James Johnson (aggressive and physical, but did not force LeBron away from the middle), trapping, or forcing him to hit long fadeaways at the end of the shot clock, it didn't matter. He was that good tonight, and what we can hope for is maybe he thinks he'll be that hot in game 3 and this time he shoots his team out of it.
The question I have is whether the Bulls can play that well again. They were especially impressive in pushing off of turnovers, a trait that always seemed to be their best path to success (given the ineptitude of the half-court sets, and any time out of a Vinny timeout, especially bad with those in this game). But they've rarely pulled it off as impressively as it was rolling tonight.
Going through some individual performances...Joakim Noah was tremendous with 25 pts and 13 rebs in 41 minutes, with Shaq meanwhile limited to only 15 minutes of burn. Vinny didn't start Brad Miller, but nearly had the same effect with Taj Gibson benched with two fouls 4 minutes in (though he rebounded with a solid game), and O'Neal had a much more difficult time than in the first game, with 4 fouls and 4 TOs in those 15 minutes. Derrick Rose had another game where he took a lot of shots to score his 20+ points, but had a much better night handling the ball (as, obviously, the whole team did) with 1 TO to go with 8 assists. He even received some secondary help from the outside from Luol Deng, who fought off injury and some shamings by LeBron and went right back when he could finishing with 20 points of his own. Hinrich was as impotent as ever from the SG spot but Flip Murray picked up the slack with an excellent first half and not-so-much second half (to paraphrase Charles Barkley: you don't live by Flip Murray, you die by Flip Murray) and 14 points overall.
Again, with so many contributions and stellar play in certain areas, I don't think we'll see the Bulls do that well again offensively in the series, outside of a wonky-excellent shooting night in the holster. It's possible. I thought that there'd be a game this series where the Bulls would stay close all game that Rose could steal, and maybe this was the one. But the star on the wrong team got it done. The preening may be annoying, but the player is damned good.
And if this is as good as it gets for the Bulls this postseason, I'm digging the exposure for guys like Rose and Noah. Even Luol Deng had to win some fans with his ability to get banged up and return without the benefit of the Paul Pierce ceremonial wheelchair. You got Noah's comments about Cleveland sure to be replayed on TNT with Charles Barkley saying Noah's his favorite player in the league. That can't hurt (though I wouldn't call it a big help either, but still...) in terms of recruitment this summer, something looking very close to starting even as the Bulls head home to try and turn this around.