Nothing like a little two-point loss to give a team a big jolt, and that’s exactly what the Cleveland Cavaliers got from the Chicago Bulls in Game 3. So instead of going for a sweep, the Cavs will try to go up 3-1 when their first-round series resumes Sunday at the United Center.
In other words, they’re still in a good spot. And James insisted the loss will help the Cavaliers.
“You see what happened last year,” James said.
The Cavaliers swept Detroit and Atlanta, then dropped the opener against Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals before bowing out in six games. Now, they’re trying to shake off a wild 108-106 loss to the Bulls on Thursday, when they cut a 21-point deficit to one in the closing seconds but came up short, adding some drama to a series that figured to be a breeze.
After all, Cleveland was a league-best 61-21 while Chicago barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed with 41 wins.
“There’s nothing wrong with facing adversity,” James said. “Losing a game makes you better as a series (goes on) and you want to go through some bumps and bruises throughout a series. This is no panic mode for anybody.
“Chicago played a great game. We digged, digged, digged, but we digged ourselves too much of a hole. We played well to end the game, so we can use that going into Game 4 as motivation, but at the same time … if we had won that game, we would have been like ‘OK, we can always just turn it on.’ We don’t want to do that. So I think us losing that game is going to help us in the long run.”
It would help if they got more from Shaquille O’Neal(notes), a non-factor the past two games after a solid opener. Coach Mike Brown reiterated Saturday that he has to get the big man more involved, even though the Cavaliers got 38 points from a small lineup in the fourth quarter.
Then again, they’ve been outscored 94-70 in the paint the past two games, a gap that an effective O’Neal could help close.
O’Neal played a total of 35 minutes the past two games with 14 points and 11 rebounds, missing layups and a dunk, after pitching in with 12 points and five rebounds in the opener. He said he’s feeling OK after sitting out the final 23 regular-season games because of a torn ligament in his right thumb and doesn’t think rust is an issue for him.
“My first couple shots were right there,” O’Neal said. “I’m not worried about that. It’s not really about our offense; it’s about our defense.”
Rose, the All-Star point guard, is averaging 27.3 points in the series after scoring 31 in Game 3, but what really hurt the Cavaliers was Kirk Hinrich’s(notes) emergence after two poor games. He scored 27 on 9-of-12 shooting and hit all four 3-pointers.
Rose has been picking apart the Cavaliers, penetrating, hitting floaters and mid-range jumpers against whoever’s been guarding him. In Game 3, it was James down the stretch.
Brown said the Cavs had discussed putting James on Rose during Game 1 but decided against it. They made the switch on Thursday and Rose could see more of him on Sunday, although James doesn’t see that as a long-term solution.
“We have enough smalls that we might have to show him different kinds of looks,” James said. “Delonte (West) and Mo (Williams) and Jamario (Moon) and Anthony (Parker) and myself, we all have to take a crack at him just to give him a different person in front of him. Different size, different speed, just to try to keep him a little from attacking. He’s a great player.”
AP freelance writer Mark Perlman in Deerfield, Ill., contributed to this report.