For the first three quarters, Monday night’s game looked like a postseason showdown of old between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls.
The game included 17 lead changes and 10 ties, and the teams were tied heading into the fourth quarter. But the Cavs showed they are too talented and too powerful for a team like the Bulls — who were playing a near-flawless game to that point — and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 112-102 victory and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Bulls had only four turnovers, took 93 shots to the Cavs’ 71 and put up 56 points in the paint. Even with the lopsided statistical advantage, Chicago still found itself locked in a 77-all tie heading into the fourth quarter, and then watched helplessly as Cleveland slowly pulled away.
That was due to the usual brilliance of LeBron James, who scored 40 points on 16-of-23 shooting, and great perimeter shooting down the stretch from Jamario Moon (four 3-pointers) and Anthony Parker (three).
Power forward Antawn Jamison added 14 points — he had 15 in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory — and Mo Williams also hit double figures with 12 after scoring 19 points and handing out 10 assists in the first game.
Oh, yeah, the Cavs also have one of the top frontcourts in the league with center Shaquille O’Neal, Jamison and reserves Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao.
It adds up to the greatest assembly of talent in franchise history.
In fact, if you put this year’s version of the Cavs against some of the great Bulls teams of the past, then superstar Michael Jordan might have fewer rings to polish on the weekend and the United Center might be missing a few championship banners from its rafters.
The Bulls own a 5-0 record against the Cavs in the playoffs, but those wins came from the Jordan-led Chicago teams against Cleveland teams that had solid-but-not-spectacular stars such as Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance.
Even those Cavs squads gave the Bulls everything they could handle in a few of those early postseason meetings. If the All-Star lineup the Cavs have in place now went up against what was essentially Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the Bulls might not have enjoyed the same lengthy postseason runs.
Jordan had a solid supporting cast, but beside the overhyped Pippen, the roster’s top names included Bill Cartwright, B.J. Anderson, Toni Kukoc and Horace Grant — a group that wouldn’t be considered in the top tier of NBA talent.
But saying they would be more competitive isn’t saying the Cavs definitely would have beaten those Bulls teams of the ’80s and ’90s. In fact, Cleveland is going to need to win its first NBA championship this season before real talk about the team’s place in history can truly begin.
But with the legendary names of Jordan and Pippen being switched for young players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, it has become obvious that this Bulls team won’t be standing in the way of the Cavs making history.
It was obvious Chicago was overmatched before the postseason even began.
The Bulls — missing Ben Gordon and John Salmons, who starred during Chicago’s seven-game series against the Boston Celtics last postseason — squeezed into the playoffs with a 41-41 record. They also barely eeked out a one-point victory over the Cavs in the final week of the regular season with James, O’Neal, Delonte West, Leon Powe and Daniel Gilbert out of the lineup.
The Bulls fans hope their team can capture that old playoff magic it once had against Cleveland, but the Cavs have reversed the old-time roles with their Windy City counterparts. Soon-to-be two-time league MVP James is the most dominant player in basketball and it’s the Bulls who are trying to find a way for its collection of good players to put together a great performance.
But the Cavs were unable to figure out Jordan and his squad two decades ago. With the Bulls’ frustrating start to this series, it looks as if history is about to repeat itself.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.