It was a weird, somewhat choppy game (but 44 fouls and 57 foul shots will do that). The game started off with a scorching hot Antawn Jamison (14 first quarter points from all over the court, including two treys) but the Bulls hung close and trailed by just a point after one quarter (27-26). Jamario Moon gave the Cavs a spark in the second quarter, scoring seven points in a little less than two minutes (a trey, an fast break layup and an alley-oop from James) and Cleveland went into the half with a comfortable seven point lead (55-48). The Cavs then proceeded to sleep walk through the third quarter, scoring just 18 points (going away from Jamison) and went into the fourth with a 73-71 lead. In the fourth, LeBron and the Cavs (with a little help from the refs- more on this in a bit) built themselves a 9 point lead (93-84) with under four minutes to go. They seemed well on their way to closing out the series (LeBron was getting to the rim at will and wasn't settling for jumpers).
The end of the game was kind of bizarre. The Cavs didn't look particularly good over the final three minutes (the Bulls doubled LeBron early and outscored Cleveland 10-3); LeBron missed a dagger three, Jamison was (correctly) called for an offensive foul, Mo missed two jumpers (he did not want to shoot) and Anderson Varejao committed a cringe worthy turnover. Leading 95-92 with 7 seconds left, LeBron split a pair of free throws, shooting (and missing) the second one with his left hand (because his right arm was bothering him... um, *gulp*). Needless to say, LeBron's bum right arm put a bit of a damper in the victory celebration (especially considering that the game ended with Luol Deng scoring a meaningless putback as time expired). I felt bad for the crowd; they were supposed to cheer moving onto the second round but they just watched the MVP brick a freebie with his left hand.
The refs were not good. The previous sentence is an understatement. I have to say, if I was a Bulls fan, I'd be pissed and, as a Cavs fan, I certainly can't defend what happened to Brad Miller in the third quarter. Miller was shown jawing with the refs and was immediately called for two ticky-tack fouls soon thereafter (while Shaq backed him down). Then, Joakim Noah took up the Big Fella and was quickly called for another ticky-tack. Later, the refs took away a continuation bucket for Derek Rose (no review, kinda iffy continuation, in my opinion) and foul shots for Deng (they reviewed it, the 24 second clock expired before the foul). Hell, the Cavs didn't even commit their first foul until LeBron clipped Flip Murray on a three with 2 seconds left in the first quarter. Both Miller and Taj Gibson fouled out for Chicago (while Joakim Noah had 5) and Anderson Varejao and Shaq both finished with 5 apiece.
Shaq was pretty effective (refs or no refs). The Cavs went to O'Neal early to establish the tone inside and the big guy delivered. Shaq finished with 14 points (7-9 shooting), 8 boards and 3 assists. I liked his energy but he was plagued by fouls as well, which limited his minutes (just 26). Shaq's touch around the glass seemed better on Tuesday night; his jump hooks were falling and he even drove to the lane for a slam (though that's easy to do when the opposing bigs aren't allowed to touch you).
Mo's performance does not easy any concerns you might have. Williams finished with 7 points and 5 assists and shot just 2-13 from the floor (2-7 3pt). Late in the game, when the Bulls doubled LeBron early in the possession, Williams was forced into two unsure (at best) missed jumpers. The Cavs survived because of LeBron (of course) and the double digit contributions they got from Jamison, Shaq and Delonte West (16 points, 2 boards, 4 assists).
Excellent closeout win (in their first try too) but bring on the Celitcs! This'll be fun. Playoff series are always more fun when teams don't like each and that certainly is the case with the Cavs and Celtics. How can you not be excited for this? Boston is so hate-able; they talk trash (KG), the flop (Pierce), they give cheap shots (Ray Allen) and they're Rasheed Wallace. Plus, we'll get to see how long Garnett can hold off from taking a swing at Varejao (my bet? Game 5) and we get to boo 'Sheed again (always fun). And not that this should surprise you, but I think the Cavs will take the Celts (pending LeBron's right arm) in the next round. The Cavs took Boston to Game 7 two years ago with Wally Sczerbiak and Ben Wallace in the starting lineup and they've since added Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaq and J.J. Hickson... with home court advantage.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com.