Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Game 17 Recap: Buon Lavoro*

Quicken Loans Arena Panorama

Bulls (9-8) 95, Cavaliers (4-15) 85

The Bulls traveled to face the Irving- and Waiters-less 4-14 Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time this season, the first time coming in an early season 115-86 blowout. Coming off of a brutal loss against divisional rival Indiana, this was another game that the Bulls could not afford to lose (not that any team can "afford" to lose, ever). 

Luckily, the Bulls quickly jumped out to a 10-4 lead. If Anderson Varejao pivots were awarded a point per move, the game would have been tied, but, alas, that is not how basketball works. 

Kirk Hinrich even hit a three to start the game for the Bulls, which seems like finding the golden ticket this season except not really, as Hinrich has apparently hit a trey in each of the last six games

Also of note: the Bulls assisted each of their fix six baskets. Also per Jeff Mangurten (a veritable fountain of statistical knowledge): the Cavs are not so good at preventing teams from manufacturing offense

Marco Belinelli executed his best MJ impression, posting up the mouse in the house formerly known as Daniel Gibson for a breezy fadeaway jumper. On the next possession, Hinrich got all the way to the heart of the lane in transition and spun the ball around his back while still in motion. Of course, he fumbled it as the ball circled back around to his left hand, but the fact that he even attempted it let you know that this was going to be another game that can't even be synonymously dubbed a "contest" or "tilt," because those words imply some level of resistance from the opposition. 

Other than Anderson Varejao, who has been having an excellent season thus far, the Cavs offered absolutely nothing of note in the first quarter that would indicate this would be a game for very long. By the end of the first quarter, the Bulls had amassed a 27-11 lead, assisting 11 of their 12 baskets and forcing 7 Cleveland turnovers. 

From the very beginning, this game had all of the atmospheric accoutrements of a March Madness game pitting a 2- and a 15-seed against each other. One team is completely overmatched, and there is an impending sense that this moderately sizable lead will balloon rapidly, paving the way for the sad, slow final walk to the bench for the fallen team's seniors. 

Wait, right, I'm talking about the Bulls. When Marco Belinelli is shooting 5-for-7 for 12 points against you, and it's not even halftime, you can go ahead and cue the Rooster Cogburn "I can't do nothin' for you son" line.

With all of that said, the Bulls somehow only entered the half up 45-35. After shooting around 67% in the first quarter, they were at a still good but not transcendent 49% heading into the break. I guess this is my punishment for thinking of analogies to capture how bad Cleveland is at the game of basketball.

Halftime Stats
Cavaliers: Team PPP--0.77
  • Varejao: 2-6, 9 rebounds, 5 points
  • Jeremy Pargo: 0-5, 0 points
  • Donald Sloan:3-6, 10 points

Bulls: Team PPP--0.99
  • Belinelli: 5-9, 12 points
  • Noah: 2-4, 8 rebounds (3 ORB), 4 points
  • Boozer:3-7, 5 rebounds, 6 points
*Thank you, google. 

Unfortunately, the Bulls couldn't put it away in the third quarter. The Cavs pulled to as close as five with just under two minutes to go. The Bulls extended the lead to nine heading into the final period, but it was not a positive 12 minutes for the Bulls. From now on, I will include a Simpsons-esque opening to these posts, with me writing "I will never celebrate a win in the first half" over and over again in this space. 

The Bulls eventually went on a quick 6-0 run after a pair of Robinson free throws --after a hard C.J. Miles foul at the rim in transition-- and two field goals from Luol Deng. Chicago was sitting pretty with a 83-66 lead at the 8:45 mark.

The NBA being the game of swings that it is, the Cavs erased that aforementioned stretch by embarking on a 6-0 run of their own, ending with two buckets in the paint from Varejao, the latter a breakaway dunk off of a steal, forcing Thibodeau to call a timeout. I also suspect that rebounding was a topic of conversation during the timeout; through less than five minutes of play, the Cavs had grabbed five 4th quarter offensive rebounds.

After a solid first half, Belinelli only took two second half shots through over 1.5 quarters of play. This was worrisome, as the Bulls offense was starting to show signs of making that weird car noise that makes you take it to the shop.

The Cavs got the lead back down to nine, but the Bulls promptly punched back, extending the lead back to 16 after a pair of Boozer free throws following an offensive rebound. Such is life in the NBA: build up a big early lead, if you're lucky, and then spend the rest of the game just trying to survive. Nota bene: this might only apply to the Bulls amongst the ranks of top 20ish teams.

Up 16 with 3:15 to go, the Bulls seemed safe this time around (seriously, the specter of that Milwaukee will haunt us all forever. FOR-EV-ERRRR). Fortunately, they were, as losing to this Cleveland team, sans Waiters and Irving, after building up a 17-point lead might have been more embarrassing than losing to Milwaukee after a seemingly unassailable 27-point surplus.

With another very winnable game in Detroit on Friday, the Bulls are in good position to play for their first 3-game winning streak of the season on Saturday against the much-improved (to say the least) New York Knicks.

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