Cleaning up last night’s action in the Association, including a statement win and colossal upset.
Chicago led wire-to-wire in their 99-92 win over Cleveland in Game 1. Vintage Derrick Rose was in full effect (25 points, 5 boards, 5 assist). It was like a flashback to the 2011 Playoffs but this time, he actually converted a couple of his patented step backs over LeBron James. Rose had complete command of the pick and roll in the second half, finding Jimmy Butler on swing passes and Pau Gasol for wide open midrange jumpers. The Cavs decided to (softly) trap Rose when he got going, so his teammates were able to benefit from easy looks.
Gasol, in particular, had his best game of the playoffs. He finished with 21 points and 10 boards and in the third quarter, he scored 11 points from jumpers and aggressively converted an “and-1” at the rim. Thibs-ball worked well yesterday, as Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and a P&R-heavy offense downed Cleveland.
One problem going forward, however, is how Thibs will manage both Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic.
Noah was active on the glass but was scoreless in 28 minutes of action and Mirotic played only two minutes despite his supreme ability to space the floor. Pairing Gasol and Mirotic makes a ton of sense for the Bulls because the driving lanes would stay wide open.
Though Kyrie Irving (30 points) and LeBron (19, 15 and 9) had good nights, the rest of the Cavs had difficulty containing dribble penetration and combating Chicago’s size. When Mike Miller was inserted into the starting lineup, Cleveland maintained its spacing but could not defend the interior.
When Tristan Thompson played, he rebounding well but their spacing was way too inefficient and when Miller was in, he was exploited by Mike Dunleavy Jr. and was not making enough jumpers to keep the defense honest.
In Game 2, Coach David Blatt will need to make more adjustments to match up with Chicago, who remains intent on loading up the help side on LeBron’s drives and playing liberal defense on Irving. LeBron and Kyrie, as talented as they are, cannot defeat the Bulls’ depth on their own.
If Rose, Gasol and Butler (20 points, 6 boards) continue to thrive, the Cavs need to find help elsewhere if they want to make this a long series.
Star UnderDOG: Mike Dunleavy Jr. (Manchester Terrier; keenly observant, bright)
Dunleavy’s floor spacing is critical in this series since Cleveland has elected to go small. With all of the attention that Rose and Butler draw, Mike gets many wide open looks on swing-swing passes to the corner. Though he seems to be moving at a snail’s pace sometimes, the Cavs continued to lose him coming off screens!
He finished with 14 points (11 in the 1st quarter) and got Chicago off to a hot start from the perimeter.
What a missed opportunity for the Rockets! Like we stated in The Kennel, LA could steal a victory with a HUGE performance from Blake Griffin. And they got it! He was absolutely incredible as a pseudo-point forward and playmaker, tallying his second consecutive triple-double (26 points, 14 rebounds & 13 assists) in the process. Houston’s defense was slow on rotations all night long and kept giving the Clippers hope throughout.
Seriously…in a game without Chris Paul, there is no reason why the Rockets should have dropped this one.
Despite, an early lead, LA’s fortune changed when Doc Rivers decided to run the offense almost exclusively through Blake so he could make plays. He was more aggressive posting up, got out on the break and was way too much to handle down low. Late in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles sealed the deal with back-breaking triples from Matt Barnes (20 points) and Jamal Crawford (21 points, 4 dimes); both plays stemmed from action created by Griffin.
And for all of the slack that Austin Rivers gets, he played a very heady game (17 points, 4 steals) after a rough start. At times, the offense looked disjointed but Griffin and Crawford were able to make enough plays to pull out the impressive victory.
James Harden (20 points, 9 turnovers) played a less than stellar game and struggled to get going in the fourth. Dwight Howard (22 & 10) put up some nice numbers but did not have the same overall impact going up against the much-improved DeAndre Jordan.
Houston HAS to find some stoppers on the roster.Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones, Jason Terry all struggled…no wonder the CP3-less Clips exploded for 117 points.
Star UnderDOG: Jamal Crawford (Gordon Setter; bold, confident)
There were plenty of X-Factors for LA in Game 1. But we’ll give the award to J. Crossover, who helped the Clippers overcome a double-digit third quarter lead with timely dimes and buckets.