Chicago 108, Cleveland 106; Cleveland leads series, 2-1
It is true. At least, it's been the norm for the favorites over the last decade or so. If you slip in any way, if you take a first round opponent lightly and decide that you're going to flip the switch in rounds two or three or even four, you'll find yourself in a world of hurt. Flip-switching is for February and March, not April and May.
I'll give the Cavaliers a bit of room, though, against my better instincts. Because they're so good, and because (with seven relatively close games between the two teams under our belt, regular season included) the Bulls appear to match up well with them, I'll hold off. That said, Chicago has played Cleveland to a hilt in seven of the last eight quarters of this series, and that's just unacceptable for a team as talented as the Cavaliers.
As it was in Game 2, though, I credit Chicago. The team made quick decisions with the ball offensively, again, and found the open man. The open man was often taking that low percentage long jumper, again, but the shots were falling for Chicago. Kirk Hinrich(notes) forced the biggest swing, nailing 9-12 shots and all four of his three-pointers on his way to 27 points. Derrick Rose(notes) had that right arm extended for his go-to floater, and the Cavs just seemed willing to let it all happen.
Though Cleveland has had its issues with offense over the years, you know this team can play better, and you couldn't help but walk away from Game 3 thinking that the Cavs took it easy on that end. That they didn't explore all their offensive options quickly and efficiently. That they let Chicago set the terms of engagement. And that's not what champions do. The Cavaliers haven't won a thing, and yet the sense of entitlement is there, and Mike Brown can't allow for that.
There's a good chance we'll look back on this re-cap in two months and laugh our tails off at the worry, all the hand-wringing over a team likely just losing one of five games in a pointless first round. But you'd be right to worry. It's OK for Cleveland to drop a game, it's hard for any team to drop another NBA team four times in four tries, no matter how great the talent disparity, but that shouldn't allow for two close contests like we saw in Games 2 and 3.
Once again, credit the Bulls. Kirk Hinrich put the team over the top with his sound shooting, while Derrick Rose was a go-to guy down the stretch, looking to work his magic with a floater in the lane, or (sigh) a pull up jumper off a rocker dribble. 31 points, seven assists, and zero turnovers for Rose, who watched as LeBron James(notes) made a point to switch over to him defensively in the fourth quarter, and didn't mind a lick.
James was brilliant for Cleveland, and while he spoke after the game of not turning it on until too late for the Cavaliers, the fact remains that he had 10 first quarter points on 10 first quarter shots. He just wasn't dangerous enough, for whatever reason. The Bulls defended him expertly, and James hit 4-8 three pointers, but he shot as a rule and attacked the rim as a nuance of sorts. 39 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, two steals; and yet he didn't own the game. I don't know how it's possible, but it probably has a lot to do with a live dribble and putting defenses on edge with penetration.
Shaquille O'Neal(notes) was pretty beat, and he didn't play in the fourth quarter after a third quarter stint that saw him pull in just one rebound alongside a turnover and no points in seven minutes. Anderson Varejao's(notes) defense seemed to be offset by Chicago's screening and ball movement, two things that Andy usually seems to dominate on that end, and Mo Williams(notes) was constantly burned by Rose.
Luol Deng(notes) was aggressive as he's ever been for Chicago, for the second game in a row, and Joakim Noah(notes) finished with a double-double (10 points, 15 rebounds) with two blocks. Taj Gibson(notes) was clearly a point of emphasis for the Bulls offense, they looked to him to try and increase spacing, and though he missed eight of 12 shots, he was about an inch off on most of them. Keep going to him. And keep putting him on James, defensively.
After putting up 87 points per 100 possessions in Game 1, the Bulls have put up 117 and 116 over the last two, after averaging just 103.5 points per 100 on the year. That's unacceptable, for Cleveland, and it's something to think about while everyone else (myself included) seems to want to talk about Cleveland not asserting itself offensively.
I'm not ready to write off the Cavs based on the last two games, not like I did for the Pistons from 2006 to 2008, but this team does need to get it together, quickly. Not to beat the Bulls, they'll, but to establish a dominant rhythm to work up into a lather in time to meet the teams that they'll need it for.
Phoenix 108, Portland 89; Phoenix leads series, 2-1
You know, once you resign yourself to something, it's hard to break away from it.
Actually, stop that. The Blazers are done, and they deserve to be done. They deserve to go away. They've had it, and I can't blame them. And they're losing to a more talented team. After months of either holding their own or winning against similarly-loaded squads, this beat-up outfit deserves a summer off.
The Suns are better, they're the best offensive team working in this postseason, and the Blazers are a middling defensive outfit working (mostly) without two of its best defensive wings in Brandon Roy(notes) and Nic Batum.
I don't know why we call him "Nic" Batum instead of "Nick." Most Nicholas' that have their names shortened add a "k" instead of just going with the first three letters of the name, so I'm a little confused.
Portland left people open, and they didn't defend well in transition. I expect that the Trail Blazers will give us a show in Game 4, but the things that made them so scary in Game 1 - sound close-outs, good rebounding, and efficient offense - have gone away.
Let me tell you something. Nick Collison(notes) might be this game's most underrated defender, and I might have really blown my vote by not including him on the Defensive Player of the Year ballot. The last few games with this guy have been an absolute clinic in help defense.
And Ron Adams? The Thunder assistant coach might be this game's soundest defensive mind. At the very least, he's up there with Dick Harter and Tom Thibodeau.
Kevin Durant(notes) will get the rightful praise for switching over to Kobe Bryant(notes) late and hounding him into 2-10 fourth quarter shooting, but he had help. Any time Kobe got a half step on Durant, Collison was there, forcing Bryant to slow down, and making it so Durant could either contest, or block the shot. I'm telling you, as it's been all series, Collison was everywhere. You have to watch this guy.
My issue with the Lakers remains the same. With the Thunder responding after a hot Laker start, making a game of it in the first half, Los Angeles' answers included Kobe Bryant taking threes, and Kobe Bryant going one on one. Kobe makes threes (he did in this instance), and he's a killer one on one, but this is the typical penny-wise and pound-foolish Laker offense. It does nothing to establish a rhythm, it doesn't involve other teammates, and these shots are best served for when the first few options fall apart, and the shot clock is ticking down. Not as a first option.
I say this because I've been watching the triangle offense for so long, and you have to establish it early, otherwise players are out of place and out of time late in the game. And late in the game is when you want Kobe taking over, but it's incredibly hard if his teammates aren't in sync with him. As brilliant as he is, he needs passes, spacing, and screens. And while Kevin Durant played fine defense, there's a reason Kobe went 2-10 in the fourth quarter. He failed to teach his teammates how to fish early, and as a result the Laker offense starved.
Kobe got 14 points in the first half, but he was 1-5 from inside the three-point arc, and you could tell the writing was on the wall. Though I watched this game on Tivo, I didn't know the result while working through it, and you could still tell where this was headed. Even if the Lakers ended up winning, you know it wasn't going to be pretty.
The Thunder were pretty. They kept the pressure on the Laker defense all game long, even if those tough drives didn't connect. Kevin Durant keeps getting more and more comfortable with being more deliberate with his moves, and James Harden(notes) was huge in the first half.
It was the defense, though, that got to me. If the Lakers don't hit a bunch of tough three-pointers, and bad two-pointers, Oklahoma City holds this team to something like 80 points. Again, Collison was everywhere in the second half, and Kevin Durant (who is 21 years old) came through with 29 points and 19 rebounds.
Last night was a fun tilt. Thanks for reading.