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Wrap-Up – With 40 percent of their starting lineup on the shelf, the Cavaliers knew taking Game 1 at The Q would be a tall order – and falling behind by 14 points in the first quarter made that incline a little too steep in the second half as the Wine and Gold dropped a tough 99-92 decision on Monday night at The Q.
Cleveland went into their Second Round series without J.R. Smith, who was suspended for the first two games of the seven-game set, and Kevin Love, who’s done for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery last week. With Smith and Love sidelined, the Cavs started Mike Miller at small forward, shifting LeBron across to the 4, and inserted Iman Shumpert in the backcourt across from Kyrie Irving.
After sweeping the Celtics, the Cavaliers have been off for eight days, and that long layoff might have contributed to their slow start. The Bulls jumped out to a 13-2 start and took a 27-15 edge after one quarter.
Kyrie netted 30 points in his playoff debut and led everyone with 30 again in Game 1 – going 10-for-23 from the floor and 9-of-9 from the stripe. After starting the game 1-for-7 from the field, Irving notched 14 points in a blistering second quarter as Cleveland closed the gap to just five, 47-42, heading to the locker room.
LeBron James barely missed his 12th career triple-double – finishing with 19 points to go with game-highs in both rebounds (15) and assists (9). James was 9-of-22 from the floor and added three steals and a block, but also committed six of Cleveland’s nine turnovers. This is LeBron’s fourth career playoff matchup with the Bulls. He’s never lost a series to Chicago and, in fact, has dropped the first game of the previous two series before proceeding to win the next four straight.
After doubling-up with 15 points and 10 boards in the deciding Game 4 in Boston, Shumpert was just as good in his spot-start against Chicago – going 8-for-17 from the floor, including 4-of-10 from long-distance.
Chicago featured three starters with 20-plus points – Derrick Rose (25 points), Pau Gasol (21, 10 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (20). Mike Dunleavy finished with 14 points, but notched 13 of those in the first quarter as the Bulls built a lead that would sustain them the rest of the night. Gasol was equally unstoppable in the third quarter, flummoxing the Cavaliers on the high pick-and-pop, netting 13 points in the period on 6-for-8 shooting.
The Bulls shot an even 50 percent from the floor, including 56 percent from beyond the arc. By contrast, the Cavaliers – the league’s hottest three-point shooting team in the second half – were just 7-of-26 from deep on Monday night, an area in which they really missed the presence of their two missing starters. Cleveland outscored Chicago in the paint, 46-24, but managed just two fastbreak points on the night.
Turning Point – After trailing by 16 early in the second quarter, the Cavaliers rode Kyrie’s scoring outburst to get within striking distance of Chicago before intermission.
Immediately after halftime, Shumpert’s trey got the Cavs to within a single possession and Timofey Mozgov’s hook shot tied the game at 51. Gasol gave Chicago the lead back, but Kyrie knotted the affair again. But things went downhill from there – with Rose and Butler combining for 10 Bulls points in just over 90 seconds of play.
From there, Gasol took over, notching nine of Chicago’s next 11 points. When the smoke cleared, the Bulls had countered Cleveland’s push with a 21-6 run after Kyrie tied the game at 53-apiece. The Cavs went into the fourth quarter down 11 and eventually cut the Bulls’ lead to just a deuce midway through the period, but Rose’s step-back 20-footer gave Chicago enough breathing space to weather the Wine and Gold’s late run.
By the Numbers – 55 … career double-doubles that LeBron James has posted in the playoffs, including the final two games of Cleveland’s last two games against Boston and Monday’s contest at The Q. James’ squads are 41-14 in those contests.
Quotable – Coach David Blatt, on taking on Chicago with a shorthanded squad …
”I think for us not having our normal rotation and normal roster, we have to adjust to things and we have to try to be creative. At the same time, everything that we’re doing, we have to be that much better and that much more exact because our margin of error is going to be smaller and we’re playing against a very good team as it is.”
Up Next –The Cavaliers and Bulls will face off against one another every other day until (or if) there’s a Game 7. Long before we reach that point, the two Central Division rivals will face each other Wednesday night at The Q for Game 2, on Friday night at the United Center for Game 3 and again on Sunday afternoon in the Windy City for Game 4. The series shifts back to Cleveland next Tuesday night, May 12, back to Chicago on May 14 and – if Game 7 is necessary – at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday, May 17.