After losing 99-92 to the Chicago Bulls, are the Cavaliers in trouble? Yes.
But are they in big, the-basketball-world-is-about-to-end trouble? No.
This is only one game in the best-of-seven series and who knew what to expect from the Cavs without two starters — Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension).
I tend to agree with David Blatt when the Cavs coach said, “We were not that far off … we were just a bit off on a lot of little things.”
That’s why I’m not in panic mode. When you have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on your team, you can win any game on any court.
No one likes losing the first game of a series at home, but it’s a very long series. The Bulls proved in their six-game series against Milwaukee that they can be a very inconsistent team.
There was no way for the Cavs to simulate what would happen in this game — because they never were without Love and Smith in a game that mattered during the regular season.
A NEW LINEUP NEEDED
But this much is certain, Mike Miller (for Smith) in the starting lineup didn’t work. The Cavs were outscored, 13-2 to start the game, and 27-15 at the end of the first quarter.
Blatt is in a tough spot. He had to pick a starter from Shawn Marion, James Jones and Miller. Well, the Cavs were outscored by a whopping 20 points with Miller on the court. In 16 minutes, he scored three points, but did grab five rebounds. He had problems with Mike Dunleavy, who drilled his first five shots (13 points) in the first quarter.
Marion was on the court for six minutes, and the only thing he did in the box score was commit a foul. Jones missed two shots, and had two rebounds in eight minutes.
Add it up and veterans Miller, Jones and Marion had three points (1-of-4 shooting) and seven rebounds in 31 minutes.
So the Cavs received so little from their three veterans.
Don’t be surprised if Matthew Dellavedova starts Game 2. He played 19 minutes and the Cavs outscored the Bulls by eight points with him on the court — chasing Derrick Rose. Dellavedova also scored five points.
None of this is appetizing. The Cavs desperately need Smith in the backcourt — not only for his outside shooting, but his solid defense. But he’s out until Game 3.
“No excuses,” insisted Blatt, talking about the team’s slow start and lineup issues.
THEN THERE’S LEBRON
LeBron James had a night where he went to the boards — 15 rebounds. He delivered nine assists, had three steals and an outrageous block. But his last field goal was with 6:14 left. He missed his final three shots, and really didn’t try to impose his offensive will in the last six minutes.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau raved about James being able to guard “anyone on the court.” And James did defend at least four players. Blatt raved about James on defense, and he deserved it.
He seemed to either be a bit weary or not in the middle of the offense. It’s hard to believe that will happen again. It was Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert who scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. They were a combined 5-of-12 shooting, James was 2-of-5.
The Bulls’ Pau Gasol scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half. Chicago continually ran a pick-and-roll near the top of the key. Irving was having a hard time staying with the dribbling Rose. Tristan Thompson often was defending Gasol.
Too many times, Rose slipped past Irving…and Thompson tried to help defend Rose…and Gasol was wide open for a pass and a medium range jumper.
“Those are like layups for him,” said Rose.
The Cavs stopped some of the bleeding when Dellavedova came into the game and defended Rose. Blatt mentioned the adjustments on Gasol, “but it was a little too late.”
So just like his players, Blatt realizes that he could have done a little more.
Rose and Gasol combined for 46 of Chicago’s 99 points. The Bulls shot 50 percent from the field, and there’s no way the Cavs can win the series if that trend continues.
“We were in that game,” said Blatt “We had our shot to win that game. I really believe that.”
He then added, “Once you walk into the fire, you can come away hurt badly…or a lot smarter.”
The Cavs have to quickly learn the lessons from this game as they prepare to face the Bulls continuously.