Full disclosure: I expected the Bulls to lose by 20+ tonight. They played (poorly) last night and the Cavaliers were set to have the post-coach-firing bump. Cleveland did initially come out with some juice, but that soon wore off and they, quite frankly, played an exceptionally awful game in a 96-83 victory for the Bulls. It was hilarious, beautiful and awesome.
I don't want to sell the Bulls too short here. They played a steady game most of the night and got some really strong performances from their big men. Pau Gasol had a few ugly turnovers early (and a hilarious play where he blocked Timofey Mozgov, then complained to the refs as Mozgov corralled the loose ball and buried an open jumper), but he came on strong on both ends of the floor, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Gasol had multiple nice hustle plays (dunk on a fast break!) and protected the rim admirably, and his jumper was working all night. That jumper helped stem the tide in the fourth quarter when the Bulls' offense got stale and the Cavaliers looked like they may threaten. He finished a team-best +22.
As good as Gasol was, Taj Gibson was just as important. His 15 and eight may not have been as gaudy, but he was an animal from the opening tip. He battled for boards and kept possessions alive in the early going, and his defense was top notch all game long. This was a vintage Taj Gibson performance, complete with goggles thanks to his eye injury from the other night.
Then there was Nikola Mirotic, who'd been utterly woeful of late. Tonight he came off the bench to pour in 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting. His streaky outside jumper was falling tonight, but my favorite play was when he took Tristan Thompson off the dribble from the three-point line and completed a layup. That type of stuff is what we were hoping to see much more of this season, so it was nice to see on that play tonight.
The backcourt didn't do anything all that notable, with Jimmy Butler notching a relatively quite 20 points and nine boards, and Derrick Rose scoring 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. While Rose's shooting line is dreadful, I was perfectly okay with his game tonight, as he had some brutal luck on some of his drives to the basket. And his pass to Gibson for the dagger late in the game was a thing of beauty. Also, THIS:
Back to the Cavaliers, though. They were truly awful, and as solid as the Bulls' defense was, it was admittedly luck that Cleveland shot 4-of-24 from three and a hilariously terrible 9-of-22 from the free throw line. Any competence from those areas and this is a close game, so thank the Basketball Gods for the Cavaliers building brick houses.
LeBron James was particularly not good, although his 26/13/9 would seem to say otherwise. He wasn't even close on his jump shots, and he racked up a bunch of points late when the Bulls already had built up a sizable lead. Kyrie Irving struggled to finish anything (Bulls' defense did a nice job contesting), and while Kevin Love did some work around the basket, he went 1-of-5 from three on mostly good looks.
The Cavaliers' bench was a complete non-factor, as they totaled just eight points on the night. Thompson did have four offensive boards, but that's nothing compared to how he usually thrashes the Bulls' frontcourt. Mo Williams got a measly three minutes after Tyronn Lue said he'd be back in the rotation, and James Jones played, for whatever reason.
So the Bulls are now 2-0 against the Cavaliers this year, who've stunk in both games against Chicago thus far. I'm not going to draw any big-picture conclusions from this, because I know better than to do so. Still, this was a delicious win considering the circumstances, and I for one will enjoy any meltdowns Cavaliers fans may have.