The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 and officially eliminated them from playoff contention. The Cavs now advanced to their first Conference Finals since 2009.
But it was no easy task. Cleveland had a rough start to this series, losing the first game at home and, in the process, home-court advantage. The 99-92 loss never really felt like one the Cavs would come back to win after allowing a 14-0 run midway through the third, but the team never faltered. Head coach David Blatt said two things helped the Cavs turn it around.
No doubt, a lot of the credit goes to LeBron James for leading his team on the floor, but Blatt let the guys know how good they could be after the Game 1 loss.
“Game 1, we lost at home. Chicago played terrific, but we were there to win, despite not really being there. I told our team, ‘I don’t know that they can play a lot better than that.’ We came out in Game 2 and had a great performance.
Cleveland shot 34-of-81 (42%) from the field while Chicago was 40-of-80 (50%) from the field in Game 1. Chicago shot no higher than 40.5% the rest of the series. The Cavs were 7-of-26 from downtown (26.9%) while the Bulls were 10-of-18 (55.6%). That highest the Bulls shot after Game 1 was 42.9% in Game 4.
Game 2 went to Cleveland with a resounding 106-91 victory. With the help of J.R. Smith and his return fro ma two-game absence, Cleveland hit 14 three-pointers in a tightly contested Game 3. But Derrick Rose bailed the Bulls out with a lucky three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Tristan Thompson.
“We lost in Game 3, but it was the same thing. We felt we could have won the game. We were confident despite the losses. We just needed to play better, and we did. From my standpoint, key thing was we just didn’t make any excuses. We never looked for excuses. We went about figuring out how we could win the games..”
“We never felt like they were better than we were.”
Game 4 was the ugliest, lowest scoring game in the series, and it was capped off by a LeBron James scorner jumper at the buzzer that gave the Cavs home-court advantage once again.
Kyrie Irving, who had been battling numerous injuries, scored just 23 points combined in Games 3 and 4. In Game 5, he came out aggressive, scoring 25 points and looking like the healthy Kyrie Cavs fans have missed. LeBron James was unstoppable going to the basket en route to 38 points. Even more important: the big zero in James’ turnover department after struggling all series with giveaways. Despite the offensive struggles down the stretch, they helped Cleveland lock up a Game 5 victory.
“LeBron was just outstanding in every element of the game. You can’t pick a thing he didn’t do at the highest level. Kyrie has been gutting it out. It seemed like he was feeling a little better. Together with his heart, his performance was high-level as well. he took responsibility and made big plays for us.”
Game 6 was all about Cleveland’s Aussie coming to the rescue. The undrafted Matthew Dellavedova came in and scored 19 points off the bench once Kyrie Irving left after re-aggravating his injuries. Once the buzzer sounded, the Cavaliers took a sigh of relief and celebrated their standout backup’s performance.
“Matty can pay. He understands what his role is and where his opportunities are,” said Blatt. “He has no fear, makes the right plays, defends his man at all times. He knows where the ball should go. He feeds off the opportunity that created for him by the other guys. When you ask him to do specific actions he makes plays. That kid’s a competitor. You’re not where he is without being a competitor.”