The Bulls bested the Cavs, 103-96, in
a matchup of the two Central Division rivals. LeBron James, gave
himself a 22nd birthday present (damn, he is still only
22 years old) with 33 points, 9 rebounds, and sore shoulders from
having to carry the team so much. Larry Hughes (15 points), Zydrunas
Ilgauskas (14) and Donyell Marshall (12) also scored in the double digits
for the Cavs, who fell to 17-12 on the season. Luol Deng, who
apparently will never miss another outside shot again as a result of
a newly-signed deal with the devil, scored a career-high 32 points for
the Bulls. The Bulls’ win was even more impressive because they
were without their point guard, Kirk Hinrich.
Led by Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon,
the Bulls took an early 15-8 lead. The two teams then essentially
traded baskets for the rest of the first half – the Bulls never led
by more than nine points, but they also never relinquished their lead
(although the Cavs did cut the lead to one point on a Daniel Gibson
three-pointer just before the half).
The first three minutes of the third
quarter were the high point of the game for the Cavs. A jumper
by Hughes and a couple of baskets by Ilgauskas (one on a very nice follow
of a wayward Eric Snow shot) gave the Cavs a 59-58 lead. On each
of their next two possessions, LeBron drained three pointers, both from
the same spot beyond the arc. The Cavs had a 65-58 lead, the Bulls
were foundering, and the game had apparently shifted in the Cavs’
And then the Bulls shifted it back.
After the two teams traded baskets, the Bulls ran off 24 consecutive
points. By the time the Cavs realized that the game was still
going on, it was too late, as the Bulls had taken an 84-67 lead.
The Cavs did mount a challenge and eventually cut the Bulls’ lead
to four points with a minute remaining, but they could not get any closer.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
3:11: No, I’m not talking
about the Bible verse a page before the one that gave rise to the rainbow-haired
flake with the sign. I’m referring to the first three minutes
and eleven seconds of the third quarter, when the Cavs swung from being
three points down to being ahead by seven. During that brief span,
the Cavs showed not only offensive skills (capped by the aforementioned
three pointers by LeBron), but they were also playing inspired defense
(both of the LeBron three-pointers were set up by blocked shots at the
other end; one by Ilgauskas, one by Gooden). When the Cavs show
that kind of inspiration at both ends of the floor, they are one of
the NBA’s elite teams.
3:08: They had another run
late in the fourth quarter, when they cut the Bulls’ seemingly solid
16 point lead (94-78) with 4:29 remaining down to a four-point deficit
(96-92) with 1:21 to go. The highlights were Hughes driving to
the hoop repeatedly (he drew a couple of fouls and made all the free
throws) and LeBron’s typical heroics (his layup, followed by a three-pointer,
made it a four point game). Again, during that stretch, the Cavs
were especially energized on defense; they forced Chicago into multiple
turnovers, and kept the Bulls off the offensive glass when they did
allow the Bulls to shoot.
Hey, An Overpriced Free Agent That
Danny Ferry Didn’t Sign!: I never understood the fascination
with Chicago’s Ben Wallace, and I still don’t understand it.
Wallace received a four-year, $60 million deal from the Bulls last summer
to patrol the middle of the United Center. Last night, he scored
two points, pulled down two rebounds, and basically had zero impact
on the game. While that was an unusually low performance for the
big guy (and to be even more fair to him, his minutes were limited because
of an apparent ankle injury that he suffered during the second quarter,
although he did return later in the game), he is a near-zero on offense,
and his defense is showing some holes as well (think back to the playoff
series against Detroit last year; how many times did Wallace change
Then Again, Maybe They’re Not Overpriced
To Begin With: Marshall followed up his Cavalier-high 29 point
game on Friday night with another solid performance, notching 12 points
and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes of run. Five of those rebounds came
on the offensive end. After slumping earlier this month, Marshall
seems to have found his legs and is playing with renewed confidence.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE GAME:
Normally, this space is reserved for
several different elements of the game that caused my TV to get hit
by thrown objects. (Actually, this is an exaggeration for literary
effect. The only time I ever threw an object at my TV was after
Marquis Grissom’s deer-in-the-headlights miss of a routine fly ball
during the 1997 ALCS, and that was at my old 21-inch set. No way
do I throw anything at the big screen. My sphincter starts to
tighten whenever any potential calamity is anywhere on the horizon,
such as when my kids are rough-housing it ten feet away on the family
room floor, or when my wife changes the channel to Lifetime. God
did not intend for weepy chick flicks to be shown in 65 inch high def;
that’s why he made the 9 inch black and white set that tucks away
under the kitchen cabinet.)
Today, I am not going to document the
individual items that spiked my blood pressure. Lord knows, there
were enough of them. The 24 consecutive points that the Bulls
scored. The Cavs going ten straight minutes without a point.
Gooden generally playing like he left his brain back in the hotel room
(we’ll definitely get to that rant another time; I will mention the
one play when he had an easy rebound and dunk, but killed it by grabbing
onto the rim with his off hand while he scooped the rebound).
Snow’s continued presence on the floor. Hughes thinking that
he is a shooting guard, instead of a slasher who happens to play the
shooting guard position. The continued and inexplicable uninspired
play of Anderson Varejao.
No, today I want to focus on attitude.
It’s an attitude that FSO announcer Scott Williams kept pushing, and
it’s one that seemed to permeate the team. And it’s one that
I cannot stand.
It’s the attitude that says that excuses
Several times, Williams hastened to point
out that the Cavs’ energy level was low because it was the team’s
second game of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights.
Pardon my French, but what kind of bullshit excuse is that? Why is
it OK for a team to give an uninspired effort (to be fair to the Cavs,
they matched up well during the first half, and had those two flurries
during the second half)?
Mind you, it was not as though the Bulls
had spent the entire week breaking down game film and getting foot massages
while they waited for the Cavs to arrive. The game was the Bulls’
fourth in fifth nights, and the Bulls had played in a different country
(granted, it was Toronto, which is sort of like America Heights; but
I’m not shy about exaggerating to make my point) the prior evening.
In other words, the Bulls’ schedule in the past week had been even
tougher than the Cavs. Not only that, the Bulls were without their
glue in Hinrich. Yet they did not lay down or let up or adopt
any kind of “woe is me” attitude.
If I go to work on a Friday and have
a bad day, I doubt very much that my boss would like it if I blamed
it on “working for a fifth consecutive day”. I suspect his
response would be that if I didn’t like it, he could arrange it so
I would have unlimited off days in a row. Why should the National
Basketball Association be different?
Let me be clear: I am not talking
about skills here. I am not talking about luck. I understand
that shots sometimes will not fall. I get it that sometimes the
other guy does his job too; and no matter how many times you get a hand
in his face, he still keeps hitting his shots.
What I am talking about is effort.
Hustle never has to take a day off. Hustle never slumps.
Hustle never has an off night, never gets injured, never needs to be
rehabilitated, and doesn’t need to take the bench for a breather.
Last night, I saw the Cavs stop hustling.
I saw the Cavs sink into a mentality that it was OK to give a half-assed
effort because it was their third game in four nights. I saw stupid
turnovers, lazy passes, settling for long jumpers early in the shot
clock, nobody under the offensive boards to get the rebound, and a general
demeanor of wanting to be Somewhere Other Than Here. I then saw
the Cavs pull out of it and almost get back in the game, which is good;
but that heroic effort would not have been necessary without the indifference
that had come before.
The NBA game is physically and mentally
tough; no question about it. But the time for relaxing is on the
trainer’s table after the game or in the comfy reclining chair on
the flight home. It’s not when you have just taken a seven point
lead and have the opponent on the ropes.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: