Fast Breaks: Bulls vs. Cavs, Game 1
Shaq looked strong in his return from an absence of nearly two months
Mo Williams played effectively and with confidence after disappointing last year
The Bulls made enough of a game of it to keep Cleveland on its toes
Coach Mike Brown and the Cavaliers couldn't have scripted Game 1 any better than it happened. And though Cleveland was taking on an overmatched and possibly distracted (see Vinny Del Negro vs. John Paxson) Bulls team, the Cavs made it clear why most favor them to win the East. The key takeaways from this win line up largely in their favor:
Shaq is back. The 38-year-old center, who hadn't played since Feb. 25 because of a thumb injury, struggled early -- his first two moves to the basket resulted in a blocked shot and a traveling call. But in 24:31 of action, broken up into declining stints that ranged from 7:24 in the first quarter to 5:14 in the final period, Shaq's presence was more disruptive to the Bulls (Chicago's frontcourt players Joakim Noah, Brad Miller and Taj Gibson all had three fouls at half-time) than to the Cavs. Having worked hard to shed 20 pounds during his layoff, Shaq seemed notably better on defense. During the regular season, his plus/minus numbers were well below Cavs' bigs such as Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Today, Cleveland outscored the Bulls 49-43 in the 24:31 Shaq played, and 47-40 in the 23:29 he sat.
So is Mo. Having underachieved in last year's postseason, Cleveland point guard Mo Williams appeared to have regained his confidence with a 19-point, 10-assist showing. He went 3-of-7 from three-point range while the rest of the Cavs were a combined 3-of-16 from behind the arc, and he played better defense on Chicago's Derrick Rose (who was terrific but still required 28 shots to get his 28 points) than any of his teammates.
Cleveland established the momentum. The Cavs initiated a game flow that displayed enough superiority over the Bulls to foster momentum but not so much as to engender overconfidence. Cleveland built a 30-14 lead in the first 10 minutes through old-fashioned sweat equity, forcing seven turnovers and grabbing five offensive boards. It stretched the margin to 22 but it was cut to a single digit after a third-period scoring drought. The Cavs were never in danger of losing, but they understand that the Bulls will continue to scrap.
LeBron dominated. What else is new? The inevitable L.B.J. highlights fell into two categories today: Breakaway blocks and muscular and-ones. Chasing down opponents to swat aside their breakaway layups has become a Lebron signature, and he scrawled it four times with defiant punctuation on the opposing backboard. The and-ones both came on shots where the Bulls unsuccessfully tried to wrap him up, and at timely moments -- when it was still close at 13-10 in the first quarter and when Chicago had closed to 88-79 with three minutes to play in the fourth period.
Bulls locked down on D. Chicago's defense stiffened significantly and permitted just 64 points in the final three periods after a lackluster opening period where it yielded 32. But the Bulls need to generate offense from someone other than Rose, who was whacked in his drives to the line during a game that got a little chippy (Lebron and Brad Miller were called for off-setting technicals after Miller fouled James on a layup) due in part to the officials "letting them play."
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