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Playoff Prospectus (04/18)

April 18, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Bulls-Cavaliers, game one

by Bradford Doolittle

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Cleveland 96, Chicago 83

Pace: 94 possessions

Offensive Ratings: Cleveland 102.4, Chicago 88.5

Chicago and Cleveland got the postseason off to a sluggish start with a methodical performance by the highly-favored Cavaliers. Cleveland broke out to big early lead, eventually expanded its advantage to as many as 22 points, allowed the Bulls to crawl within nine a couple of times in the fourth quarter and cruised through crunch time with a comfortable margin.

As a unit, the Cavs looked rusty at times in its first game with Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James both in the lineup since Feb. 25. That's more an observation of how they functioned as a group than how any one player looked. O'Neal shined early, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the first half and getting Chicago center Joakim Noah in foul trouble. When the Bulls started helping out Noah in the post, O'Neal found open shooters and finished with four assists. One of the questions in this series was how Cleveland coach Mike Brown would divvy up the minutes at center and power forward. In this game, O'Neal's 24 minutes were complemented by 32 minutes from Anderson Varejao, who grabbed a game-high 15 boards and helped quell Chicago's late rally with a key offensive rebound. Antawn Jamison had 15 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored two points in nine minutes and J.J. Hickson made a brief appearance at the end of the game after the outcome had been decided. Leon Powe was inactive.

The Bulls' offense really struggled in the game, failing to crack a 90-point Offensive Rating in any quarter until the fourth. Again and again they attacked the teeth of the Cleveland defense and were turned away--the Cavaliers blocked 12 shots in the game, which was two more than they blocked in any regular-season contest. The Cavs forced seven of Chicago's 14 turnovers in the first quarter while outscoring Chicago 32-18 in what proved to be the decisive frame of the contest. Derrick Rose uncharacteristically committed seven turnovers but it wasn't entirely his fault. If Rose wasn't creating and forcing the action, the Bulls' offense wasn't producing. He finished with 28 points on 28 shots and 10 assists in the game.

The game pace was a Bulls-friendly 94 possessions, with 52 of those coming during the first half. However, it was the Cavs that were pushing the action. Overall, Chicago had a 15-14 edge in fastbreak points, but the Bulls were 6-of-8 in transition opportunities, while the Cavs were just 4-of-10. Chicago simply got better looks when they pushed the ball, turnovers be damned. However, too often Rose was a one-man break. At one point, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy noted how Rose was basically forced into committing a turnover because three of his Bulls teammates failed to run the floor. If Chicago is to have any shot at stealing a couple of games in this series, it will need everyone to beat their man down the court as often as possible. Noah was outraced on a few occasions by O'Neal, and that just shouldn't happen. O'Neal winning that matchup was a killer for Chicago. It would also help the Bulls to get an officiating crew that call a little closer game. The crew of Bob Delaney, Eddie Rush and John Goble has been nemesis of the Bulls this season, even handing coach Vinny Del Negro his only career ejection in a March game against Houston. During the second half, when Rose was on the attack, he was getting bounced around pretty good, but ended the game with just two foul shot attempts. Overall, there were just 34 fouls called in the game.

With Noah in foul trouble, the Bulls struggled on the offensive glass, grabbing just 16 percent of their own misses. They need to double that going forward. As for James, he took a fairly passive approach on Saturday. He scored 24 points on 19 shots and seemed content to keep the ball moving, rather than holding it and creating the offense for his team, and focusing on the defensive end. Part of it was Luol Deng, who did a good job of pressuring James and getting him to give up the ball. But you also had the feeling LeBron was just playing according to the whims of the game. If the Cavs had needed him to be more assertive, he surely would have been. If there was any rust in his performance, it was hard to detect.

Game Two is Monday in Cleveland.

G1: Cavaliers 96, Bulls 83 (Cavaliers lead 1-0)
CHI  18  23  19  23 - 83
CLE  32  24  17  23 - 96
BULLS         Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   26   68.3  .409  .154  .000  .266  5.36
Second Quarter  26   86.9  .400  .000  .120  .038  4.98
Third Quarter   23   82.1  .400  .222  .150  .173  3.27
Fourth Quarter  19  122.6  .525  .333  .100  .107  4.92
-------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      52   79.1  .404  .077  .064  .154  5.17
SECOND HALF     42  100.3  .463  .250  .125  .070  3.97
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           94   88.5  .431  .159  .092  .149  4.63
=======================================================
CAVALIERS     Pace   oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  TCHS
First Quarter   26  121.5  .556  .385  .074  .190  6.73
Second Quarter  26   90.6  .500  .200  .333  .189  6.49
Third Quarter   23   73.5  .400  .200  .050  .259  4.20
Fourth Quarter	19  122.6  .526  .364  .158  .107  5.54
--------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF      52  108.0  .533  .304  .178  .193  6.61
SECOND HALF     42   95.5  .462  .316  .103  .096  4.66
-------------------------------------------------------
FINAL           94  102.4  .500  .295  .143  .192  5.74
=======================================================

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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