There can be no doubt that the sellout crowd at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center got every bit their money’s worth Monday night. The Wine and Gold (5-1) faced their stiffest test this preseason in the form of the new-look Chicago Bulls (4-3) in a contest that definitely lived up to the hype. Front and center in the action was the electrifying dual between All-Star point guards Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving. In what was easily the most entertaining and significant game this young season the Cavaliers emerged victorious 107-98 in the second-to-last game preceding NBA regular season play.
The Cavaliers earned a hard fought win Monday night in a game between the two Eastern Conference superpowers. In the huge win against the Bulls the Cavaliers corrected many of the issues that plagued them in their four game preseason win streak snapping loss to the Dallas Mavericks Friday night. In that game they did a poor job of rebounding, scoring in the paint and committed 22 turnovers. In their win against the Bulls Monday night the Cavs committed fewer turnovers than their opponent, scored more points in the paint and outrebounded their opponent. Five members of the Cavaliers scored in double digits, compared to just three for the Bulls, something that surely can’t continue going into the regular season. One of the most spectacular plays of the game was Dion Waiter’s slick pass to Tristan Thompson for an impressive two-handed jam in the second quarter. Through the first two quarters the game was very close, culminating in a 51-49 Cavalier lead at halftime.
The third quarter was when the Cavaliers began to both sharpen the blades offensively and tighten up defensively, as evidenced by the Cavaliers outshooting the Bulls 64%-41% from the field. With both teams repeatedly trading the lead the Wine and Gold went on an 11-0 run late in the 3rd quarter including 9 straight points by Kyrie Irving in a full display of the point guard’s diverse game. The Cavaliers kept the double-digit lead for most of the next two quarters, but the Bulls did come to within five in the closing minutes of the game. After a shot clock review late in the fourth quarter the Cavaliers drew up a lob play which worked to perfection in allowing Tristan Thompson to catch an alley-oop pass for a big dunk. The play stopped the bleeding for the Cavs and helped to ensure them the win after the Bulls started to shave down the Cavs hold in the contest.
The Cavaliers were led by the exciting play of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (28 pts, 7 ast & 3 reb) who showed little to no signs of rust after sitting out all of the Cavaliers preseason games this season after suffering a lower leg injury. He showed off his full array of quickness, shooting and precision passing skills in a game which served as a crucial opportunity for him to start creating chemistry with his team. 4x MVP LeBron James did a great job of being the multi-faceted tool that he is within Head Coach David Blatt’s offense and finished with an efficient 18 points on 11 shots to go with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. The Cavaliers also got excellent production from their big men: Anderson Varejao (22 pts, 8 reb, 2 blks), Tristan Thompson (10 pts, 8 reb & 2 blks) and Kevin Love (9 pts, 13 reb & 3 ast). Also notable in the game was the much improved shooting motion of Tristan Thompson, who showed marked improvement in releasing the ball at the apex of his shots.
True to their reputation in recent years the Bulls used a combination of gritty defense and great ball movement to keep themselves in the contest, even when the Cavs built up a double-digit lead in the second half. Their potent combination of big men in (new-addition) Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson led to many offensive rebounds and efficient points in the paint, giving the Cavs big men headaches and foul trouble. No factor was more important in the Bulls performance than the sensational play of point guard Derrick Rose. The player from Chicago was electric in the contest, finishing with 30 points, 5 rebounds & 3 assists, and showing every bit the explosiveness and elusiveness that once powered him to an NBA MVP season. At several points in the game Rose literally put the team on his back, scoring at will and appearing to be unguidable at times. However, when it counted most the Cavaliers played team defense on Rose and got big stops when they needed them most. All in all, the Bulls showed the Cavaliers and the rest of the world that they will be a force to be reckoned with this season and it will take both great individual play as well as excellent team discipline to challenge them in the East.
The Cavaliers have one preseason contest remaining before a week-long rest leading up to their first regular season against the Knicks on October 30th. They will go on the road and play the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum this Wednesday, October 22nd . Tipoff is at 8pm and the game will be televised locally on FoxSports Ohio and nationally on ESPN.