The Bulls took a 2-1 series lead over the Cavaliers with their 99-96 win in Game 3 at the United Center.
Without any corny seques or overburying the lead, he confessed to not calling glass:
- The situation could not have been more Derrick Rose. It is a tied game in which he shot poorly, had three turnovers but no threes, but played well and dazzled the eyes. Whatever look the Bulls wanted, they could not get, so Rose took an ugly situation, took a horrendous shot, and made it beautiful.
Rose led the Bulls with 30 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in almost 39 minutes, shooting 10-for-26 from the field. It was a rough shooting start, but he closed well, scoring 24 on 17 second half shots.
- Rose led this game more without the ball in the first. He really made Kyrie Irving look terrible on many possessions. Irving was lost without the ball, largely due to Rose's ball denial. It was difficult to tell whether Irving was ball-watching or just disinterested at points. Irving only took two shots in the first half.
As trite as it is to say that this set the tone, it did. Irving was slightly more aggressive in the second half, but his defense was confused and there was no compensation for bricked shots with plays off the ball.
- Once Rose got into his groove, no Cav trifled him. Rose only shot 7-for-17 in the second half, but after three-and-a-half games of zero trips to the free throw line, he went 9-for-10. Neither LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, nor Irving could prevent Rose from getting to his preferred spots on the floor. Rose did not finish well at the rim, but getting there is the largest part of the battle. Continuing to trust that good things happen with aggressiveness make for unconditional rewards and Rose got them.
- Jimmy Butler scored 17 of his 20 in the second half. Butler had a great game. LeBron forced the issue, so Butler had his five fouls in 44 minutes, but there were no signs of fatigue. If anything, the fourth quarter was his best, defensively. Like Rose, he consistently got inside. It really is as simple as that for him, offensively.
- Wecome to the 2015 NBA Playoffs, Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic has not looked like a skilled NBA player in the limited action he has played since suffering a first round leg injury. Tom Thibodeau played Niko less than ten minutes in Games 1 and 2, combined. Game 3 was a much different story.
Mirotic did not play at all in the first quarter of Game 3. Then, Thibs basically played him the entire second quarter, and Niko paid him back with 11 points and four rebounds in the quarter. He played with everyone, literally, drove to the hole, hit four free throws, hit a three, closed out on threes, crashed the boards and went up hard. It was a solid performance.
Was Mirotic's playing time a reaction to entering the second quarter down 24-18 and in desperate need of some buckets? Or did genuinely need the time for his leg to recover, and he happened to be ready tonight?
- Tristan Thompson is a bad center. He does not really have quickness, nor does he cover much ground very fast, but he makes the correct plays as a free safety. But in small lineups with three guards and LeBron, but no Timofey Mogzov, the freestyling created gaping holes for the Bulls. Niko exploited this, heavily, as did Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy only hit two threes in the first half, but scored 13 and finished with 16. He was cutting through those gaping holes with and without the ball. Frankly, Rose and Butler not scoring really didn't matter because of the ways which the Cavs small lineup opened up opportunities for the Bulls elsewhere.
Mozgov-Thompson poses problems and Thompson is a nice player, but him as the sole big on the floor has to make the Bulls go:
- For a missed shot competition, this was an extremely exciting game before the buzzer beater. Game 1 and 2 had zero lead changes. In Game 1, the Bulls scored the first bucket, dominated the first quarter, rode the Cavs hard for a couple more, and put them out wet in the fourth. The Cavs did that to the Bulls in Game 2.
Game 3, on the other hand, featured 19 lead changes and 17 ties. The squads were within five points the entire fourth quarter. Odd to have such a fascinating game when both teams bricked more than 60% of their shots. The 100 level at the United Center didn't even need to be told when to get excited.
- The Cavs are still nailing a psychotic quantity of threes. The tracking data will be interesting. Hitting 14-of-34 threes (41.9%) was huge for them in a game where Irving played like oxycodone and Cavs not named LeBron only had eight trips to the line.
- The Bulls played legit strong defense. Everyone does not have to be perfect for a team defense to perform. Hell, Carlos Boozer was never good and this scheme was elite.
Thibs' defense is dependent on every primary helper receiving backup on the third efforts. Sometimes that is taking away a penetration angle. Others, it is staying home on a shooter or disrupting potential passing lanes. LeBron had to work to make passes; they were great passes, but they had to be great, as he also had seven turnovers.
- Rebounding is impacting this series more and more, quarter-by-quarter. Thompson still had his 13 rebounds, he still had his four offensive rebounds, but that was over the course of 27 chances in 41 minutes, which included being the only rebounder in a small lineup. The Bulls didn't just outrebound the Cavs 54-39, they grabbed twice as many offensive rebounds to score 18 second chance points to the Cavs' seven. The Bulls grabbed nearly 40% of their misses and 75% of the Cavs'.
- If the Cavs win, the narrative is that LeBron did it alone. He scored 27, despite tough Bulls defense, on 8-for-25 shooting. He missed his first free throw in the opening minutes, then hit his next ten. The ball-watching by Cleveland was embarrassing to watch. It is only that LeBron can draw defenders away from his teammates and make the sick bullet passes. His team shot 39%, but he had 14 assists. He created over half of their threes on the game. He was the Cavs only strong help defender in a game where he was outside a ton and the Bulls just bricked at the rim like they needed to review the rules. It was nearly enough, but just not enough.
- J.R. Smith had a huge fourth, so the threes are not a fluke. Smith had three of his four threes in the fourth. If you want to know his role, this is it. On the brighter side, when LeBron was checking Rose or playing free safety, Smith was checking Butler and that frequently ended very well for Chicago.
- At what point do we just feel bad for Joakim Noah? I don't know how many uncontested or badly contested layups he missed, but that felt like the story of the first quarter. He missed his first seven shots, despite nice looking drives. He just doesn't have the lift.
On the brighter side, the heart and hustle and screamy is still there. He grabbed six offensive boards in only 21 minutes. For the first time in a while, it did feel like he wasn't out there too long. And that hurts a little to say.
- Taj Gibson got buckets, but got away with slow reactions on defense. Probably a better offensive game than defensive, which is odd, but he knows where his bread is buttered, so the nine points in 23 minutes is refreshing. He is moving very well in these playoffs without the ball, creating passing lanes to himself near the rim.
- James Jones is on my TV too much. After knocking down five three-pointers in Game 2, he hit two in Game 3 in the midst of serious defensive assignments. I guess Bulls fans will take it, but there is something that is getting annoying about him. Can't figure it out yet.
- Pau Gasol left the game with a hamstring injury. No news yet. He was bad. A couple of cheap blocks and nice ball movement, as usual, but even Matthew Dellavedova was driving the lane like Russell Westbrook.
- David Blatt says Irving was playing with a sore foot that he may have aggravated. I don't know. Sure, I believe it. Not because Blatt said it, but because Irving was bad and should feel bad.
The Bulls will go into Game 4 on Sunday in Chicago with a two games to one lead. Tip-off will be shortly after 2:30 p.m. CST, so set your plans with Mom, accordingly.
Stats via NBA.com.