(more on the 4 factors box score)
The Cavs have been perennially one of the top defensive teams in the league since Mike Brown took over as coach. Tonight the Bulls looked like an even better unit out there.
Though it's not like the aforementioned Brown has ever had his teams looking very fluid on offense. The Bulls only had 6 TOs all night, forcing the Cavs into their ugly half-court 'sets'. And Shaq looked way too slow to be consistently effective, and playing him and Z together never made sense, and Mo Williams takes way too many rushed shots for someone who shares the floor with LeBron, and LeBron absolutely coasted all night to the point of embarrassment.
But it was Noah making life miserable for Shaq. And Deng staying in front of LeBron so well that Mike Fratello actually claimed that Deng had the size/speed combo to do so (he doesn't). Kirk Hinrich was everywhere defensively tonight, and I loved the play where LeBron was stuck in the paint with the defense collapsed on him, and Hinrich literally ripped the ball from his hands.
LeBron spent so much time looking like he couldn't care less hoisting jumpers that I think the referees forgot who he was on his final drive, and didn't give him the call as he flailed into Noah. I think LeBron lost the ball on the way up before even making contact, so while it shouldn't be praise to make the correct call, it was indeed unexpected given the circumstances.
While the Bulls defense held together all night (they shot 30% in the 3rd quarter and stayed within 5), I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and James to pull out the win with no comparable Bulls player existing to respond. It actually looked like it was going that way, with a James three-pointer followed by a block on Salmons. But Mo Williams hesitated a bit on a kick-out 3, then took an inexplicable running layup that wasn't even close. The Bulls own late-game ineptitude (didn't score with 3 possessions in the final 1:44) allowed James to still be able to be the hero down one with the ball, but Deng and Noah did the job. In fact, lets not say James didn't get the superstar call, but Noah did get one.
The Bulls offense still, more or less, blows. They weren't even able to hit the offensive glass tonight (a Cavs strength, denying that). Deng/Salmons/Hinrich shot a good percentage, but while Deng had a corner three-pointer (huge if he can do that) Hinrich and Salmons only chipped in 2 between them.
Is this the way it's going to be all year? The Bulls incapable of being even an average offensive team and having to hustle and defend their way to mediocrity? If so, even the wins will be ugly. But they have a long time to get better, and in April nobody will care how the Bulls beat the Cavs on the road, but that it was a win.
To the bullets...
- I hope you 'Rise of Taj'-ers are happy. Now he's not only taking away Tyrus's playing time, but Noah wasn't in for the final stretch of minutes either (he was subbed in late for that final stand against James). With the announcing crew pumping up the rookie ('the coaching staff tells us...' said before each laudatory remark) it sure seemed like Gibson played better than a 5-12 shooting night and a pedestrian 7 rebounds (I think his OREBs are inflated due to catching his own misses) in 33 minutes. And while you can see how he helps in other areas, he's playing way way too much.
- I do thank Taj Gibson for stepping up and being the new Chris Duhon of BlogABull. I heard there was a tearful passing of the torch ceremony and everything, though Duhon ruined the after party getting too drunk.
- You just knew VDN would try throwin Pargo out there early to see if he was still hot from the Bucks game. Nope, the good-games streak ended at one, Pargo was 0-4 in 11 minutes.
- Yet more on VDN: that 'inside trax' feature on TNT does not serve him well. I realize that it's good to keep things simple in the huddle, but 'shoot with confidence' (huh?) and 'RUN!' don't make me think he's the next great hardwood tactician. And I don't think I ever heard a single mention of defense, which isn't as much an indictment as it is just funny given the preseason hype. All that said, what does matter is that they're playing better defense, and as much as I roll my eyes at VDN's motivational ploys, they play hard. I'd think this group would play hard regardless and deep down know he's still in over his head, but still.
- Tyrus Thomas wound up playing sick tonight after flying in late to meet up with the team. Wasn't quite the Jordan flu game, he hit a couple jumpers and didn't do anything else. Sure, it stinks that Taj has now risen to take his job and he'll be dealt for nothing or left to walk at the end of the season since Vinny's tired of him, but I'll enjoy the guy while we have him, and glad he gutted out this game to maybe possibly win back some of the coaching staff's trust.
- Kudos to TBJ's Tas Melas for capturing the ridiculous way LeBron addressed the refs post-game, calling one over just to give a fake-confused 'let me get this straight' face while ultimately saying nothing. It's a dick move in an argument, and I know because I've pulled that move when I'm feeling dick-ish.
- Luol didn't only hit a corner three tonight, but had a turnaround jumper over a Cavs guard after a defensive switch. If he can do both of those things more often, that's a new wrinkle, and it won't matter that he can't score in isolation off the dribble. Until the end of games when he's hoisting up shots barely hitting the rim, but that will be Rose time eventually (right?).
- Speaking of Rose...that seemed like a quiet 14pt, 11ast night, though once again he contributed most in the 4th quarter (10 pts), which is fantastic. Only 2 TOs with those 11assists.
- I don't get how the Bulls have beaten two top-tier teams while looking this bad either. Maybe the Spurs were tired and the Cavs aren't good right now. But it's so huge that they're getting these wins in the early toughest part of the schedule.