In a weird twist, it was the defense and rebounding that didn't come through...
A 101-98 loss to Cleveland at home...that was a pretty unexpected result. Though the Bulls were entering this week knowing they weren't going to have Taj Gibson, they received the unexpected good news that the Cavs star Kyrie Irving was going to be out tonight. And with Hinrich clawing his way out of another well this morning, there looked to be possible return of competent offensive play for Chicago.
And there kind of was solid offense. Hinrich had the Bulls out quickly to an 11-2 lead, and the offense really wasn't the problem tonight. Hinrich had 11 assists, with he and his teammates shooting the ball pretty well: Boozer was 13-20 for 27 points, and Deng 9-16 for 26, and the team shot 50% overall. They hit a very good 43% from three at a high volume (9-21).
But outside of that initial stretch of play, the Bulls were never in control of this game...a game against the Cavs without Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao. They went into halftime tied, and as a telling example of the game overall they shot 69% in the 3rd quarter and yet were outscored 27-23.
That's because it was a rare game where their defense and rebounding failed them and the Bulls were simply outworked. I don't even think it was the case of the Bulls not playing that hard as it was the Cavs really coming out and wanting to end their 11-game losing streak against them. The most telling stat is the 36% offensive rebound percentage that Cleveland was able to sustain, but it showed itself in getting to other loose balls and forcing turnovers. The Cavs were very aggressive in jumping out on the Bulls rudimentary passes around the perimeter, and took several charges as both teams went to small-ball.
They also took an initiative of attacking the Bulls inside on offense, getting 19 FTAs to the Bulls 15. The absence of Taj Gibson and observed limitations of Joakim Noah lately (who had an ok line, not enough production considering it was 40 -yikes- mintues) may have been a factor in some of that success. And the Cavs did seem to make a point of going after Carlos Boozer. This would happen a variety of ways, whether it was Tristan Thompson early, or when Dion Waiters was playing backup PG coming off of screens, or somehow Luke Walton hitting 4 jumpers while Booz sagged in the lane.
For his part, Boozer was able to exploit the matchup on Walton on the other end, but it wasn't enough. The Cavs surged to a 9 point lead behind Waiters' play, as even with Irving out Cleveland still had the best pure playmaker on the court, giving Hinrich fits with no other guard likely to stand a better chance. The Bulls were able to close it to 1 behind some Hinrich/Booz pick and rolls, but never took the lead. Their last chance to tie resulted curiously in a Luol Deng jumper off of a screen, which wasn't a terrible look but also what hadn't been what was working previously.
The Cavs managed to seal the game with FTs and yet another hustle play, as Luke Walton stole a poor inbounds pass from Boozer. It was sort of emblematic of the night as it was a Bull who put up great stats, but a Cav who really wanted it more. While I thought the blowout in Oklahoma City was a case of the Bulls playing hard but being out-gunned, this was a rare case of the Bulls not matching an opponent's effort. And especially with the injuries further piling up, there really isn't that much margin for error, even against pretty-poor teams.