I'll lead with the end, as that's just good recappin': after a frantic final couple minutes where Kevin Love hit back-to-back threes (even if the scoreboard had trouble figuring that out) to bring the Cavs within 2 with the final possession, Pau Gasol somehow delivered this game-saving block on LeBron James:
The Cavaliers still had over 3 seconds to try again, but couldn't even inbound the ball successfully as the Bulls came away with a 97-95 opening night victory over their rival from Cleveland.
A successful result for Fred Hoiberg's debut, and though there were some parts of the process that weren't so pretty to watch, there were also good signs. It was opening night, and to be honest both teams looked fairly sloppy, but the Bulls had just enough spots with competence to have a slight lead for nearly the whole game.
Ironically it was Gasol who had maybe the most glaringly poor night for the Bulls, finishing 1-7 with two points (going scoreless in the first half for the first time in 5 years) with very little engagement in the offense and (stand-still blocks aside) some really bad defense. The defense and rebounding behind him and Mirotic looked really troublesome to start the game, as the Cavs literally ran out to an early lead. But as I suspect we'll be seeing more of the Bulls this season, the 3-point shot was an equalizer as Mirotic had 2 of them (and 11 points in the opening quarter) to take the lead.
The Noah/Gibson led bench unit had a fantastic first half defensively to get the lead to double digits. Some of it was helped by Cavs incompetence, sure, as they looked abysmal with LeBron out (JR Smith and Tristan Thompson were atrocious), as there were several long scoring droughts from them. The lead was precarious though as the half ended, until Doug McDermott had a 7-point flurry to get the lead back to 9 before LeBron hit a three to end the half (one of several lazy shots from him that simply went in, as he finished with 25 points on 12-22 shooting with Butler doing his usual admirable effort).
Through that 2nd and most of the 3rd quarter, the bench was the story. At halftime the combination of Rose, Butler, and Gasol went 6-23. Butler was flailing (and failing) his way to try and get FT calls on off-balance jumpers, whereas Rose was at least driving inside but was having similar lack of success getting whistles (and he wasn't really deserving them either). Meanwhile, the trio of McDermott, Tony Snell, and E'Twaun Moore went 12-21 for 30 points for the game and helped pick up that slack.
But as the game went into the 4th quarter, the group of Brooks/Moore/McDermott/Gibson/Noah (helped by some Aaron Brooks ball-domination of doom) coughed up the lead as they could not get quality looks.
Cleveland went small to their Thompson+Love frontcourt, but their time with the lead was short-lived as Nikola Mirotic went on a hell of a run drawing two straight 3-point plays by himself (love seeing him run the ball up the court) and it was followed by Rose and Butler drives to the wide-open Cavs post defense. There were more tight possessions offensively from the Bulls after that, leading to the to-close finish, but they never relinquished the lead again.
Fun opening night! You could say we'd expect a better Cavaliers team in the future (they were 10-17 from the line and missed several point-blank shots. And...missing their starting backcourt), but quickly counter that we can expect more out of the Bulls as well (and no sympathy from us when it comes to missing players, obviously). There were some signs of pure Hoiball but between a sloppy season opening performance and the Cavaliers athletically overplaying a lot of passing lanes, there weren't long stretches of great offense being played on either side in this game.
What was showing for the Bulls was some depth in the scoring output. I mentioned McDermott/Snell/Moore, but the leading scorers did turn out to be Mirotic, on a hyper-efficient 19 points, followed by Rose's 18 and Butler's 17 (on really poor shooting nights, but several key baskets late on 1-2 pick and rolls). Cleveland was led by James, with Mo Williams playing very well chipping in 19, Kevin Love being somewhat trash until those 2 threes, and no other Cav even playing sort of well outside of the ancient Richard Jefferson.
There was also a real sense of fluidity from Hoiberg in his substitutions, as some foul trouble and injury (Noah exited in the 4th after banging knees and didn't return) had ever combination of the 4 bigs out there at one time or another, and Hoiberg showed a sense of matching personnel especially in his use of McDermott, who was quickly yanked whenever LeBron would come back on the court after his laying-down back-rests. The defense held its own and though they did wind up losing the rebounding battle it was close enough not to cost them (Thompson only had a single offensive board), and they of course came up big on that final play.
And to end it on a special note: I can't believe I stayed in this blogging game long enough to type this, but: Kirk Hinrich received a DNP-CD. All hail the new coach! Undefeated!