With their top two point guards out due to injury and Dwyane Wade ‘graciously’ moving himself to the bench, the Cleveland Cavaliers started LeBron James as their point guard. And he was brilliant leading some unconventional lineups, playing 37 minutes and putting up a spectacular line of 33 points (on 20 FGAs) and 13 Assists (to 2 turnovers) to lead the Cavs to a 119-112 win.
But I suppose it was a small victory in that he was forced to play that many minutes, as the Bulls started this game out completely on fire and for the first time this season made for a competitive game. It was a fun one, too, as both sides are fairly awful defensively.
I mean, the Bulls made 17 three pointers out of 33 attempted...and lost. It’ll at least boost their heretofore tragic offensive rating. And obviously key for long-term development (silly me, mentioning a ‘win’ or ‘loss’, so results-oriented!) was that the Bulls early run of 22-9 to start the game, on their way to a 68 point first half, was led by Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls started the game running a couple very nice pick-pop plays for Markkanen and he delivered.
Bulls have run this play a ton for Lauri. He screens the PG and then gets one from Lopez. pic.twitter.com/rj9TP64x5v— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) October 24, 2017
Markkanen was on fire in the first half, to wind up 17 points accompanied by 6 rebounds. Here’s all 5 of his threes in that first half, the last one in LeBron’s eye.
Lauri Markkanen 3 pointers so far... pic.twitter.com/i9BexkchiQ— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) October 24, 2017
Even in moments Markkanen didn’t come through, it was a charmed stint, like this failed post-up that led to a Justin Holiday three.
Markkanen led the Bulls in scoring and accounted for nearly 50% of their 12-20 mark from three (heck, Robin Lopez banked one in). However, the Cavaliers were also firing away and hitting from distance, and the aesthetically-gross Wade-led bench unit closed the deficit. They never completely closed it in first 2 periods though, as they were fended off by the recently-disposed Kay Felder, who had 13 points off the bench before halftime for the Bulls against his former team.
Then, the Cavaliers went on a 16-4 run to take the lead. Markkanen had a nice putback dunk off his own miss...but those were his only points for the rest of the game. Markkanen, and the Bulls, were suddenly struggling against a Cleveland team that was switching more, trying a bit harder, and forcing the Bulls into several ugly turnovers.
The Bulls did not get blown out though, staying in the game behind more three-point shooting from Denzel Valentine and Justin Holiday, who also added a pick-6 to a dunk. They actually had the lead back before the end of the 3rd.
Holiday gets the steal and stumbles, expects Wade to be back there on defense. Obviously he wasn't on last year's team. pic.twitter.com/sP3458r9xR— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) October 25, 2017
LeBron returned early in the 4th quarter to re-assert control, with several assists to the many shooters at his disposal. The Bulls were sparkling from three in this game, but allowed Cleveland to hit just one fewer than them, with 16 makes.
By the time Markkanen came back in the game (it was a noticeable absence, but he did wind up at 32 minutes on the night), there was 6 minutes to go with the Bulls down 112-103...and LeBron effectively played prevent for much of the rest of the game, scoring when necessary but otherwise pounding the ball to take the air out of it and the Bulls.
LeBron James scores on Lauri Markkanen. lol at the shoulder move walking away. pic.twitter.com/ayPUtUseYe— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) October 25, 2017
The less said about the Bulls defense, the better. They were somewhat non-miserable when straight manning-up opponents, but if the Cavaliers put any kind of action with player and ball movement, like at all, they were completely toast. Plenty of the Cavaliers three-pointers where shamefully wide-open, even Kevin Love hit a few of them and he usually shoots 0-for-a-million against any Bulls team. You could tell that (like last year) there is no consistency in scheme, and Cristiano Felicio was called out multiple times by teammates for incorrect coverage.
0-82 is still in play. But what we’ve seen so far from Markkanen in his debut season has been very encouraging. For such a young rookie to take on this big of a role and production is not to be taken lightly.