Musings from the Magnificent Mile
Against Chicago – whether it’s karmic comeuppance or luck or just the strange order of the universe – the Cavaliers have the “21st century Jordan.” (Or whatever LeBron is.)
He’s not normal, as he’s proven for the last seven years and again on Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Right now, he’s the greatest show on Earth – turning in, what ESPN’s Chris Broussard called “a man’s triple-double” – 37 points, 12 boards and 11 assists.
That was LeBron’s second playoff game that he’s scored 37 points as part of a triple-double. The only other player in NBA history to have done that twice is Oscar Robertson. The players who have done it once? Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But it’s always more than just LeBron’s numbers. His teammates have no choice to try to match his intensity. And he was going to keep them sharp all afternoon. After the one-sided win, Jamario Moon said James was talking to his guys “the whole game. He gave us ‘the speech’ before the game, during the game, and after the game.”
Playoffs are about adjustments – from quarter-to-quarter and game-to-game. After Thursday’s Game 3 loss in which their “small” lineup put up a 38-point fourth quarter, the brain trust decided to roll with it on Sunday afternoon.
That move essentially substitutes Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ minutes for J.J. Hickson’s. Big Z attempted just five shots through the first two games and has been put in tough spots by a strictly pick-and-roll team like the Bulls.
“J.J. gave us a lot of energy off the bench,” praised LeBron. “One thing that J.J. does is play his role. He comes in and screens and rolls to the basket and puts pressure on the rim – and you can’t substitute that. Guys who put pressure on the rim – above the rim – there’s no substitution for that.”
“I’m just going out with the same mindset as I did as a starter,” added Hickson. “I already know my role – to roll and get easy baskets. And to defend – I think I took two charges today, and I think Mike Brown was excited. I just go out with a defensive mindset and play basketball.”
Big Z will be needed throughout the playoffs and perhaps again against the Bulls. But right now, it looks like the sophomore from N.C. State could be the second big off the bench.
“The fact that we can play a lot of different lineups works to our favor,” concluded LeBron. “We just have to exploit the lineup that’s doing great at that point of the game.”
A Bunch of Bull
The Cavaliers expected Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose to have good series, and they have.
Noah dented Chicago’s rich playoff history, becoming the first Bull to go for 20-20 (21 points, 20 rebounds on Sunday). Through Game 4, the former Gator is averaging 16.5 points and 14.0 boards per contest. Rose has been just as deadly – averaging 25.8 points and 7.5 assists through four games.
In that same press session, certain members of the Chicago media were angling that the insertion of rookie James Johnson late in the second quarter was the turning point of the game.
When the first-year big from Wake Forest came in for Brad Miller with 3:05 left in the half, the Bulls were up one. By intermission, Cleveland was up 10 and firmly in control for the rest of the night. On the afternoon, Johnson picked up five fouls in just over eight minutes of work. He was consistently being directed by his teammates when the teams lined up for free throws.
Of course, blaming a rookie for yesterday’s browbeating would truly be the easy way out.
More than anything, it was the Cavaliers stepped-up defensive effort, holding the Bulls to 37 percent shooting and specifically, bringing Kirk Hinrich back down to Earth. One game after going 9-for-12 in Game 3 – (“The box[score] said he missed three shots, but I don’t remember any,” quipped Mo Williams on Saturday.) – Hinrich was an underwhelming 3-for-13 on Sunday.
Before his acquisition in mid-February, it was commonly accepted that Antawn Jamison would be the perfect fit for the Cavaliers – and he has been.
Jamison went for 24 points and seven boards on Sunday and is averaging an even 18 and 8 through four games. And his array of unorthodox “Inspector Gadget” shots has kept the Bulls guessing.
For example, Jamison’s soliloquy after Sunday’s stomping …
“(This is) the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Jamison. “It’s been 12 years for me. I’ve seen a lot; I’ve accomplished a lot. But on a team level, I haven’t got past the Second Round. And it seems like every year around this time, I’m watching other teams and other guys get the opportunity. And come June, I’m sick.
“When you’re young, you think you’ll get the opportunity quicker than when it occurs. But this is the only thing that drives me, it’s the only thing left for me to accomplish. My name has been associated with ‘good guy,’ ‘great teammate,’ and ’good guy in the locker room.’ But the one thing I want that name to be associated with is ‘Champion.’”