This was not fun. This was a ugly game, there's no getting around it. The Cavs only scored 17 points in the first period, but somehow they opened the second half with a 51-47 advantage. They then proceeded to give up 34 points in the third quarter, including a 17-0 run (oh, and the offense? 16 points. Ugh).
But even then, they had a decent shot to win the game. With 9 minutes to go, the Cavs had whittled the Bulls 17 point lead down to 8 after Damon Jones completed a 4-point play (a basket which also happened to count as LeBron's first assist of the night). The Cavs then forced a miss and had the ball and a chance to cut the lead to 6 or even 5... but Wally was whistled for an offensive foul (illegal screen or something) and Nocioni sunk a trey that killed any momentum that the Cavs had.
LeBron was great... but didn't have a great game. LeBron was on fire to begin the game; he his buzzer beaters to end the first two periods and he went into halftime with 26 points. He was posting up, he was knocking down 3s... he was scoring in every which way. But that was it. He scored. James finished 39 points, 3 boards, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. He had as many turnovers (4) as he had rebounds and assists combined. James slowed down in the second half, shooting just 3-12 after the break (he was 13-27 FG, 2-83PT and 11-12 FT overall). It's not that he had a bad game, but with Hughes and Gooden gone and Z and Gibson hurt, he needs to carry more of the load. The new players look good for chunks of games, but you can tell that there's still issues to be sorted out.
But don't let me come off as blaming this game on James. As a team, the Cavs shot 39% (Cavaliers not named LeBron combined to go 20-57 for 35%), got out rebounded 56-48 and allowed six different Bulls to score in double figures. The only Cavalier regular to shoot 50% or better was Devin Brown (6-12... that's right, Devin Brown had 12 shots).
Also, the Cavs are starting two offensively challenged big men with no spring in the legs. Ben Wallace had 2 points (1-4) and grabbed 10 boards in his return to Chicago. Anderson Varejao
was a horrendous 2-11 from the field and also nabbed 10 rebounds. However, somehow they let Joakim Noah grab 20(!) rebounds (10 of which were offensive!). The Cavs also let Luol Deng get 5 offensive boards and the Bulls had 21 as a team (to Cleveland's 14).
The bench was outplayed as well. The Bulls bench got 41 points; Ben Gorden (23) and Nocioni (11) kept nailing killer shots down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Cavalier bench shot 9-25 (and its even worse when you consider that the D-Leaguers shot 2-3 in garbage time) and Joe Smith, Damon Jones and Szczerbiak combined for 26 points. I didn't think Wally had a particularly good game; he was just 4-11 from the floor and he seemed to end up in a lot of Bulls offensive highlights.
Former Cav update: nothing has changed. Larry Hughes shot 4-12 and finished with 12 points. He also had some classic fastbreaks; one time he took a 12 foot pullup and another team he took decided to get to the line rather than pass it off for an easy basket (neither of these plays are exactly wrong... but if he chooses to pass the ball, his team definitely had 4 more points). Drew Gooden (who looks much weirder without the headband) gave Chicago a nice 12 point, 8 board effort. Neither of these guys were on the court when Chicago put the game away (get used to that, Bull fans). Also, Shannon Brown got in for 2 minutes of garbage time and managed to turn the ball over. Well done all everyone.
I miss Z. Maybe if Varejao was healthy, the Cavs could start both Wallace and Andy. But he's not healthy and the Cavs are getting very little offensive production from their front court (minus LeBron, of course). Z also gives the Cavs an offensive focal point when James is out (and takes some pressure off when he's in). I'm having a really hard time getting a read of how good this team actually is, because they're mixing in so many guys who haven't played together (basically injecting five back into the mix). The two main constants have been James and Damon Jones (who's contract suddenly doesn't seem as obnoxious) and everyone else comes and goes. Hopefully the Cavs can bounce back versus a mediocre Indiana team on Saturday at the Q.