Certainly wasn't the blowout I feared.
Thursday night the Bulls nearly matched their offensive efficiency from Game 2, something I didn't think they'd be able to the rest of the series, let alone the very next game. Another game with extremely low turnovers (8 total, 0 for Derrick Rose in over 42 minutes), and while they didn't control the boards nearly as well as in game two (Noah with 15, the next highest was 6 by Flip Murray), they certainly shot better.
Rose was slightly more efficient tonight with 31 on 26 shots, Luol Deng put up 20 and was agressively attacking the rim, including this move, perhaps the least-athletic athletic play I've ever seen. And Kirk Hinrich was fantastic (inspired by BaB?). 27 points on 9-12 shooting for him, and it seemed like any second half run the Cavs made was staved off at least in part by another Hinrich jumper. He went 4-4 from the line, and shot his first FTs of the series in the second half, finishing with 8 attempts.
Sure, missing the last two made the game closer than it should've been, as did a bunch of other lucky factors in the final minute. And if Anthony Parker makes that final half-court heave such a spectacular collapse would've been sadly representative of this team's season. But it didn't, so I'm choosing not to make it a big deal. The missed FTs and made 3s by the Cavs that late were flukey, and it wasn't flukey enough for them to get this win.
I choose instead to highlight the great stint before that, when Derrick Rose made 4 out of the 5 baskets for the Bulls, the kind of star-on-team performance I was hoping for in a close game in this series. LeBron was making insane plays in his own right, but Rose's team had the cushion and James turned over the ball on two straight fourth-quarter possessions, a charge drawn by Deng (which was a borderline call, but we were due) and then a strip by Noah. Luol and the Bulls had another good night forcing LeBron outside, and even though there were times they were switching at strange points getting Noah or Taj out on James, he still mostly stayed out there.
And though James made shots, and his team shot 40% from 3, so the real issue for Cleveland wasn't King James or his court, it was that they couldn't stop the Bulls from scoring. The Bulls, of all teams! It was especially rough for the Cavs in the frontcourt, and it was highlighted in one sequence: old-ass Shaq blowing a dunk, and Noah beating him down the court on the other end for a layup. Varejao battled foul trouble all night, and the Cavs actually had their best success when they went without any bigs (Jamison and James as the frontcourt) and forced the Bulls with Noah on the bench (foul trouble of his own) to go without him or Brad Miller. The Cavs were able to scrape back into the game by owning the offensive glass and exploiting mismatches (the Cavs 'small' is better than the Bulls 'small'), but then Noah returned, and Rose took over. Both instances of a fine (if only in a get-out-of-the-way) coaching job by Vinny Del Negro. With no game until Sunday, he essentially went 7 deep (James Johnson got 5 and half minutes), and Rose had the ball in his hands to end the quarters and end the game.
Again, I was expecting bad things tonight (maybe it's just scarred memories of attending Game 3 of the Celtics series last season. And I'm envious of the fans there tonight, seemed like a hot crowd, though the 'see red' was a bit of a failure) and while a Cavs blowout has to be looming somewhere it hasn't happened yet. And the Rose and Noah Bulls are doing the best they can to make a free agent pitch independent of whatever disarray the front office is in. Mission: Look good, and look good on national TV. No matter how this series finishes, it's already proven to be productive in that respect.