The East Semifinals have begun, and through three games, the Cleveland Cavaliers have their backs against the wall down 2-1 in the series. Everyone is expected to elevate their game and go all-in the rest of the way. Iman Shumpert will see his fair share of minutes guarding Derrick Rose while providing additional offense. Delly has been a nice spark off the bench with his play making, shot making, and defense. Brendan Haywood and Kendrick Perkins will have to ready themselves up for possible runs against the Bulls’ frontline. All these and more, so we have identified the five biggest factors that will come to play if the Cavaliers were to tame the Bulls.
5 – Championship Pedigree Off The Bench
The Cavaliers` bench keeps within itself a boatload of championship experience with Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller, James Jones, and Kendrick Perkins all having won a ring. While these names didn’t make noise in the regular season, their wealth of knowledge have exponentially became significant in the playoffs especially as the Cavs go deeper. Each of them brings forth certain goodies that little by little makes up for the things that will be missed in the absence of their two starters. Marion could still play respectable defense. James and Miller still have ammo left in their cannons. Perk and Haywood can still rough up down low.
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4 – Kyrie Irving’s Health and Defense
Kyrie Irving has dazzled everyone with his fine performance against Boston but he’s had a tough task so far against one of the best point guards in the league in Derrick Rose. Irving has talked about his dedication to defense and taking it upon himself to stop the “head of the snake” and he’s now faced with the biggest challenge of his career so far and that is containing the machine-like Derrick Rose, who scored the game winning buzzer beater in Game 3 for the Bulls. Kyrie is also expected to put pressure on Rose with his deadly offense, but with Irving’s apparent foot and ankle injuries, the bigger battle lies in his impact while not playing at 100%.
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3 – Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson
The presence of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson has become more important than ever with Chicago having a plethora of talented big men. Thus, keeping themselves away from foul trouble is extremely important. Cleveland relies on Mozgov for rim protection but he can also hit occasional medium range shots to drag the Bulls` bigs a bit further away from the basket. The seven-foot Russian plays very well with LeBron James, giving their best player more options on the floor. Mozgov has been the beneficiary of a number of sweet dimes from James for easy finishes at the time, so its imperative that Mozzy stay active. Meanwhile, Thompson’s ability to hit the offensive glass has been one of the Cavs` main weapons through three games thus far. Thompson’s impact is the one that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score, but more during the game.
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2 – LeBron James` Aggressiveness
It all starts with The King and everyone else will follow. LeBron James has it in him to dominate every game from here on out and the Cavaliers will need just that from him in the second round. With the Cavaliers’ lack of depth down low, the Bulls will look to further damage that area but on the other end, it’s up to James to put pressure on Chicago’s big men by attacking the rim with purpose and hopefully take them out of the game with foul trouble. He should spend more time playing the four-spot and this is where he can hurt Chicago the most because not one of the Bulls’ front liners can keep up with him. Jimmy Butler is Chicago’s only answer to James, and he wasn’t enough to stop James in Game 2, but forced James into an unusually inefficient night at 8-25 from the field. James will have to be better in this crucial Game 4.
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1 – David Blatt`s Creativity
Despite getting less credit than he deserved for the Cavs’ turnaround this season, Coach David Blatt’s basketball knowledge is undeniably off the charts. Prior to coming to the NBA, Blatt was highly regarded for piloting teams to overachieve with his creative genius at the helm. Now, he has the most versatile player in basketball as his centerpiece and he’ll be pitted against a veteran coach in Tom Thibodeau. He can elect to play small-ball, go old school with his veterans, or spread the floor with his shooters. The first-year NBA coach’s knack for getting the most out of his players will be extremely crucial as he conjures up the Cavaliers’ plan of attack on the loaded Bulls.
On Saturday, Blatt decided to cancel practice ahead of Game 4 and instead have a team yoga session, something that ex-Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson used to do to relax his team prior to games.