Fast Breaks: Cavs-Bulls, Game 3
The Cavaliers have more talent top to bottom, but desire won Game 3
Derrick Rose made a nice recruiting pitch for free agents considering Chicago
With attention on Rose, Kirk Hinrich found himself with lots of shooting space
Thanks to a 31-point showing from Derrick Rose, the Bulls built a 21-point lead over the Cavs before finishing them off 108-106 in Game 3 on Thursday. Though LeBron James, whose furious charge in the fourth was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Cavs still lead the series 2-1, could the Bulls have found a weakness in Cleveland's armor? Not quite, but Game 4 should be interesting.
The Bulls wanted this more. The Cavs have more talent top to bottom, but desire won this game. After both teams traded bricks in the first few minutes, the Bulls settled into the comforts of home. They hit shots, they were more aggressive going to the rim and they took advantage of Cleveland's lumbering centers. Against a defense that limited teams to 44.2 percent shooting this season, third-best in the NBA, the Bulls hit 50 percent of their attempts and were able to get a big enough lead to withstand Cleveland's late wake-up call. More important, the Bulls, whose speed troubled Cleveland all evening, forced Mike Brown to use a smaller lineup in the fourth to counter Chicago's style of play. While it is doubtful LeBron and Co. will miss as many layups and dunks again as they did in Game 3, the Bulls' success in slicing through the Cavs' big men has given the coaching staff a lot to figure out by Sunday.
Derrick Rose made a nice recruiting pitch. The Bulls are one of the many teams with a boatload of salary-cap space this summer. After watching Rose fly past LeBron and a good Cleveland defense to get almost any shot he wanted, what free agent wouldn't consider a partnership with Rose? From teardrops to an almost indefensible push shot, Rose left the Cavs with few clues as to how to stop him, much as he has all series. He also played the smart distributor, finding teammates cutting to the basket and not turning the ball over once all night. Expect Cleveland to trap him in Game 4 in an attempt to get the ball out of his hands because it sure hasn't slowed him much with the ball in his hands.
Where's J.J.? Assuming the Cavs advance, getting Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal on the same page will be important against the likes of the Celtics and Magic. But against the Bulls, and especially in Game 3, they looked slow and tentative. The Bulls were looking to drive the lane at every opportunity, and J.J. Hickson's athleticism could have only helped Cleveland on the defensive end. After all, the guy started 73 games for a team that finished with the best record in the league. And with Shaq and Jamison combining to register a minus-9 for the game, allowing Hickson to try to stay in front of Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson for more than one minute might have looked a lot better for Cleveland.
Welcome to the playoffs, Kirk Hinrich. Rose's offensive exploits in the postseason are becoming a given. But after letting Ben Gordon go last summer and dealing John Salmons at this year's trade deadline, the Bulls have not had the greatest relationship with the basket on the offensive end. Hinrich helped broker some peace Thursday, dropping 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 4-for-4 performance from three-point range. With the Cavs desperately trying to slow Rose, Hinrich was often left wide open. And he took advantage of the opportunities, hitting a pair of threes to stave off Cleveland's late charge.
Free-throw shooting counts. In general, free-throw shooting accuracy does not correlate to winning nearly as much as free-throw attempts. But in Game 3, the Cavs' league-worst foul shooting came back to bite them. Simply put, Cleveland missed 11 of its 31 free throws and lost by two. There isn't much LeBron has to improve on, but games in which he connects on only seven of his 13 attempts from the stripe should be atop the short list.