The Cleveland Cavaliers faced their first adversity of the NBA playoffs last night and passed with flying colors, evening up their Eastern Conference semifinal series at one game apiece with a 106-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Obviously, when the Cavs win they get very good performances out of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and Game 2 was no exception.
James scored 33 points and had eight rebounds and five assists, while Irving put up 21 points with three assists in the win.
But with Kevin Love sidelined, David Blatt needs other players to step up. Iman Shumpert has done just that in both games, and last night, he hit several three-point shots early, finishing with 15 points and seven boards.
He has stepped up big time with J.R. Smith serving a two game suspension, and with Smith returning Friday night, perhaps Shumpert can continue to provide the long-range shooting that Love provided.
We believe for the wine and gold to win in this series, they need a good performance out of one of their three “old hands”, meaning James Jones, Mike Miller, or Shawn Marion.
Jones provided such a game Wednesday night, hitting five of nine from beyond the arc and scoring 17 points. He hit two big triples after the Bulls ran off 14 consecutive points in the third quarter to cut a 25 point lead down to 11.
The Bulls never got any closer.
Coaches can be stubborn, so Blatt should be commended for seeing that the Mike Miller as a starter experiment didn’t work, and going to Tristan Thompson to begin the game.
Thompson, who really fits the definition of a guy who is better on a good team that a bad one, scored only five points, but grabbed 12 rebounds, and as usual, kept several possessions alive by tracking down his teammates errant shots.
And you have to give credit to the much-maligned Matthew Dellavedova, who had nine points and nine assists.
However, now it’s on to the Windy City and without a doubt, those games will be a challenge. Marginal players are usually more productive at home, so the burden will be on James and Irving, to get the team off to a good start.
Shumpert, who left the game with a groin injury, hopefully can continue to contribute as he has over the last four games, and they will need Smith to come back from his suspension to pick up right where he left off.
If Smith can pick up right where he left off before the last two games, the Cavs will be able to spread the floor the same as when Love was playing because the Bulls will have to honor the ability of the two former Knicks to make long-range shots.
Because as much as last night’s game was about James’ aggressiveness, Shumpert’s first quarter shooting was equally a key. He provided the three-point shot that was missing in the first game.
The best case scenario is for the wine and gold to come out early like they did last night in Game 3, and take the Chicago fans out of the game. It would also show the Bulls that Monday night was the aberration.
James needs to be in aggressive mode again, because it doesn’t appear the Bulls have any answer for him in the paint.
The three-point shooting is key in this because making some shots from outside will open up the middle.
Without a doubt, this is a series now.