This blog post was supposed to be a companion piece to my last blog. I was going to delve into the Bulls defense, what you can expect to see, and what needs to improve this season. I had been preparing to write it for the last couple of days. I even started writing it this morning, and then the Bulls beat the Cavs. If you haven’t seen the game you might still be able to find it on ESPN3, they made it available to stream for free. It was a dopey preseason game that the Cavs didn’t take too seriously, but it meant something to the Bulls and the victory was a statement of sorts.
I hate the Cleveland Cavaliers, not because of the recent history with Lebron knocking Rose and Jo out of the playoffs time and again, but from the way back, from before the championships. During the late 1980’s and the 90’s the Bulls always seemed to run into the Cavs either in the playoffs or on their way to the playoffs. Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper (who turned out to be pretty cool in the mid to late 90’s), Craig Ehlo; Cleveland let all sorts of characters play basketball for their team, and I didn’t like any of them. We had Michael, Paxson, Brad Sellers, Dave Corzine, eventually Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Scottie Pippin, you know… real men. I think the stress of those playoff years in the late 80’s and early 90’s may have shortened my life by a decade or two. It wasn’t just Cleveland, but Boston, New York and Detroit. The fits those teams gave the Bulls and a young RokDeez, not fun.
Which is why I always enjoy when the Bulls beat Cleveland. Especially when they beat Cleveland with Lebron James on the court, the greatest player of this current basketball era. Preseason or not, Bulls vs Cavs? I’m in.
Yet another reason to get excited about the game, there are a lot of ex-Bulls on the Cavaliers: Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, Kyle Korver, and Jose Calderon (yes he was briefly a Bull).
It was the first game of the preseason for King James. He had missed Cleveland’s previous games due to an ankle sprain or some similar BS, and he was rusty. It looked like James and the Cavs were learning how to play together. Cleveland went with a small starting line up of Rose and Wade at the guard positions, James and Jae Crowder at forward, and Kevin Love played center. The Bulls went with what is proving to be the standard: Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Paul Zipser, Niko Mirotic, and Robin Lopez.
The Bulls played well in the first quarter moving the ball, creating and hitting shots out of their flowing offense. As they would for the majority of the game, Lopez and Holiday anchored the team, scoring baskets when needed, making plays on defense, and generally providing a calm professionalism whenever Cleveland’s star power threatened to tip the momentum. Nikola Mirotic went down with an injury shortly before the 1st quarter ended. He twisted his left ankle stepping on Dwayne Wade’s foot while scrambling to defend against Lebron. Fortunately, the injury doesn’t sound too serious, but Niko didn’t return for the rest of the game. ‘Nuff said. The 1st quarter ended with the Bulls in the lead 24-20.
Coach Hoiberg tried a new Bulls line up for the 2nd quarter with disastrous results. The combination of David Nwaba, Denzel Valentine, Antonio Blakeney, Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen proved to be incapable of rebounding, defending and scoring. The Bulls small lead disappeared, replaced by a 9 point lead for Cleveland. The “play” of this group was so bad, Hoiberg had to call a timeout to replace the abhorrent line up, it was the first time all preseason I can remember him doing that. Holiday was subbed back into the game, and the Bulls took control and the lead, finishing the half ahead 50-42.
During the 1st half, Derrick Rose looked like the ex that you haven’t completely gotten over but they have certainly gotten over you. He was driving down the lane with speed and finesse, completely under control, finishing at the rim or with floaters in the paint. He looked good. Dwayne Wade just looked old. He had a couple of good drives to the rim in the 1st quarter, but they were against Jerian Grant who is proving to have a distinct disinterest in playing defense. By the end of the 3rd quarter I was very happy the Bulls bought Wade out. He may have “something left in his tank” for the playoffs, but there is no guarantee of that being true. Cleveland is more than welcome to him, and his gas tank.
Half time inspired some fight in the Cavaliers and they briefly took the lead in the 3rd quarter before succumbing to the Bulls relentless effort. Justin Holiday was brilliant for the Bulls scoring 28 points in 29 minutes of play, adding 11 rebounds and 3 steals to his stat line throughout the night. He is the best, healthy Bulls player on the team. The 3rd quarter ended with the Bulls up 72-67.
The 4th quarter belonged to Lauri Markkanen. The rookie sealed the victory for the Bulls, scoring something like 15 of his 18 points in the final 12 minutes of play. He displayed nearly all of the different ways he could score during his 4th quarter run. He hit threes of the pick-and-pop and catch-and-shoot variety. He scored on a turning, falling, fade-away. He dunked twice; once on a dish while under the basket, and a second time while running in transition. Markkanen was simply awesome. Denzel Valentine also thrived in the 4th, almost making up for being a part of that atrocious platoon that flailed and failed in the 2nd quarter. He and Ryan Arcidiacono ran the offense with control and pace, making plays with good passes and smart shots. It was good to see Valentine being a playmaker, something he excelled at during his college career, and not just a 3 point sniper.
All preseason long, the Bulls have pushed their opponents. They are a young, inexperienced team. They make a lot of mistakes and they are certainly not as talented, individually, as the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they won this game through their effort. This Bulls team out efforts opponents every night. They play for each other, they play hard, and they play to win. It is exciting to see the Bulls competing with, and holding their own against the Cavs. Yes, it’s preseason. Yes, Lebron was rusty. But the rebuilding, Baby Bulls 2.0 just beat the best team in the Eastern Conference. I suggest allowing yourself a small, satisfied grin in celebration of this unexpected victory. Go Bulls!