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Bulls' offense gets chance to shine in Game 1 win

Usually defensive minded Chicago excels on other end of the floor

POSTED: May 5, 2015 1:02 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Bulls win Game 1 on the road

Derrick Rose scored 25 points and dished out five assists to lead the Bulls to a Game 1 victory against the Cavaliers, 99-92.

— The way the Chicago Bulls' dynamic has shifted this season -- a significantly upgraded offense providing cover for a defense that has slipped a notch -- there have been nights when they've seemed on the verge of apologizing just because they've become more proficient at putting up points.

There is an inherent bias in certain NBA circles when assessing the value and reliability of outscoring opponents vs. choking them off. Offense generally is considered play to defense's work. It's the talent side of the ball rather than the effort side. And frankly, it's the side coaches trust less because it can come and go, it teases based on a player's hot or cold hand and it's doesn't provide anywhere near the comfort of traditional get-lower, try-harder, sweat-more defense.

When you're the Bulls, playing for defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau, having too much fun on offense is almost heresy. It's like the classical pianist's son secretly admitting he's a Jerry Lee Lewis fan.

With our offense, anybody can take the shot.

– Derrick Rose

And yet, with their victory Monday over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opener at Quicken Loans Arena of the teams' Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Bulls' offense was what drove the conversation and what will send LeBron James and crew into heavy-duty film study before they play again Wednesday.

Chicago only scored 99 points, but its shooters hit half of their 80 attempts. The Bulls were nearly as good from 3-point range (10-for-18, 55.6 percent) as they were from the foul line (9-for-16, 56.3). They hit a combined 57.1 percent of their attempts in the first and third quarters, hung 32 points on the Cavaliers in those first 12 minutes after halftime and responded to Cleveland runs not by digging deeper (or whatever defensive-minded cliché works for you) but by stepping on the gas at the other end.

Rose and Gasol dominate the 3rd quarter

Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose combine for 20 points in the 3rd quarter of the Bulls' Game 1 win over the Cavaliers.

Surreal as it was afterward, much of the talk -- once reporters were assured Derrick Rose's right shoulder injury late in the game was just a "stinger," a temporary injury that went as quickly as it came -- centered on the Bulls' various weapons and how effective they were -- as well as how they were effective -- in grabbing the 1-0 series lead.

"When we was making our runs," point guard Derrick Rose said, "it was all about getting guys in the right spots, reading how they were playing everyone -- me being the point guard -- and just trying to make it easy on everyone."

Said James of the solace and solutions he'll seek in video review: "Ways we can do better. With their pick-and-rolls, with their pin-downs for [Mike] Dunleavy. With some of their isolations for Jimmy [Butler]."

Cleary, these aren't your Keith Bogans-Omer Asik, early Thibodeau era Bulls anymore. Adding Pau Gasol, getting Rose back, riding Butler's transformation as a threat at both ends and getting the ball to Dunleavy in his proper spots has turned Chicago from opportunistic offensively to -- to use Rose's word -- dangerous. Oh, and rookie Nikola Mirotic barely played and didn't score, so there even was firepower untapped Monday.

The idea in past postseasons that anyone would react to, to the point of fretting over, the Bulls' many offensive facets is laughable. When Chicago won the opener over James' Miami squad in 2011, the give-and-take didn't have to go further than slowing down Rose -- which the Heat did eventually by draping their versatile superstar forward over the point guard in pivotal stretches. When it happened again in 2013, with Nate Robinson as the Rose surrogate, well, that series was a mismatch without much need for Miami drama.

But the Cavs had their hands full this time, squeezing a toothpaste tube with three, four or more holes in it. It was Dunleavy early, hitting five shots in the first quarter. It was Gasol in the third, picking-and-popping Cleveland to distraction. Throughout, it was Butler and Rose, combining for 45 points, distributing 11 assists and turning over the ball just three times in their 82 minutes.

Derrick Rose highlights from Game 1

Derrick Rose highlights from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Even when the Cavs crept close -- James putting back a Tristan Thompson miss midway through the fourth to get his team within 86-84 -- there was Rose confidently answering back from 20 feet to keep the home team and home fans at bay.

"With our offense, anybody can take the shot," Rose said. "It's just that I was open ... In our offense, if you're open, you've got to shoot the ball. That's what makes us kind of dangerous because you don't know who's gonna shoot the ball down the court."

Except, of course, when Rose and Gasol ran pick-and-rolls, notably in the third quarter. Gasol stroked in six of his eight shots and scored 13 points, including the final five of a 15-0 run that spoiled Cleveland's 53-53 tie.

"When you've got a player like Pau, he's very experienced, and the free-throw jump shots are like a layup to him," Rose said. "Even if he misses a few, he can come down and knock five in a row. That's a good play, it's an easy play."

It wasn't something illusory, either, or available only because Kevin Love and J.R. Smith weren't around.

Said James, who guessed that he guarded at some point every Chicago player who participated (besides little Aaron Brooks): "Obviously Pau's a great mid-range shooter that we found out tonight. And he made us pay. We have to ... find ways to be better on that particular play."

Good as it is, it's still outside most coaches, and traditionally Thibodeau's, sweet spot of security. Yes, the Bulls' offense is better. But when push comes to shove, when pick leads to Pau, he and his players go back to reciting the fundamentals. And, in Game 1, playing them. When their offense soured in the fourth quarter (31.6 percent, four turnovers), they managed to take Cleveland's with them (38.1 percent, two turnovers).

"It's the defense, the rebounding, low turnovers, inside out and share the ball," Thibodeau said. "It's always those five things. That's how we measure ourselves every night, that's what we work on every day. That tells you, if you look at those things, it gives you the answer to why you either win or lose."

What the Cavaliers planned to work on Tuesday, though, were the adjustments they needed to make to cope with Chicago's potent offense. That's a sentence that rarely, if ever, has been typed.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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