Cavs 95, Bulls 86
--Here is what Larry Hughes said to me and Lisa Salters from ABC before the game. Lisa couldn't believe it and made sure he knew what he was saying. Here it is:
“I play to enjoy myself, some people take this the wrong way, but winning a championship is not what I base everything on. I was given an opportunity to play basketball, travel around and have fun doing it and that’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t take being unhappy and not being myself and winning. I would rather enjoy myself with 18,000-20,000 people watching the game and the people sending fan mail and those things and be happy...I didn’t come here to play the point guard, that’s just it. I came here to run the wing, just like he was running the other wing. I was asked to sacrifice for the team to win and for everybody, I guess, get paid. That is what was told to me and I wasn’t happy with that.”
I do understand that Larry did make sacrifices when he played for the Cavs. I do understand that he was not playing in a system that thrilled him. But I cannot believe he is saying he would rather have fun -- read: getting to run around the way he wants and take lots and lots of shots -- than win. I thought winning is fun, sitting at home at watching the playoffs is no fun according to most NBA players I've known. I can see not playing at all, just sitting on the bench. But if you are a big part of a winning team, I thought that was desirable. Very few players in this league get everything they want, most of the time you have to settle. As long as Larry was being paid what he was being paid, I'd think some settling would've been acceptable. That's the other thing, the comment about just winning and getting paid. Larry earned $4 million in bonuses over the last two years because the Cavs hit win targets in his contract. The more the team won, the more he did get paid. That said, in the playoff run last season, even before he got hurt, I didn't get the sense that he was happy. I never saw that joy from him, so I think this is probably more than just lip service, I think he really means it.
So I suppose today was interesting for Larry. He got 20 shots, he got 23 points, he got shut down in the stretch run by LeBron and then had to watch as LeBron carried the Cavs to a win. Under his terms, I suppose it was a happy afternoon. Plus he said he got to see his pet bulldogs, which he said was the only thing he missed in Cleveland.
--The Cavs offense continues to be a sloppy mess. Not just because nobody knows where they are supposed to be at times, but because the player groupings aren't always right. Mike Brown just wanted to talk about defense after the game and that is his way, he thinks that the Bulls went on an 18-3 run to take the lead in because the transition defense was poor. He's not wrong, but I look at the Cavs going 1-of-15 from the field and taking a bunch of bad shots. Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace playing together, it has to be done now that it appears Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going to be out for a week or more with a bad back, but it drains the options. I think Joe Smith has to play a bit more and he's got to have plays run for him to keep the defense honest. The Cavs didn't remember they had him until the fourth quarter. Also, I think the small lineup with Varejao, James, Devin Brown, Damon Jones and now Wally Szczberiak should be used more, Mike seems to forget that change up. --That said, the Cavs did spread it out in the fourth and that got Smith and Wally involved and they delivered. But LeBron's play down the stretch was impressive as always. Especially the way he drove and dunked to put the Cavs up four points. The ball hit the deck so hard after he slammed it through, it bounced more than 20 feet from the basket. --After the game, LeBron got drug tested for the fourth time this season. Several other Cavs said they have only been tested twice so far and not in months. They don't let you take a shower before you get tested and LeBron was gulping down water so he could get it over with. In the NBA they have random testing after games, you never know when it is coming.
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, Luol Deng, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
Officials Joe DeRosa, Eric Lewis, Bill Spooner
--Zydrunas Ilguaskas is at home with a back strain. The Cavs are not saying how long he may be out. --Bulls coach Jim Boylan has made adjustments to his norma starting lineup to put Hughes and Gooden in there so obvious reasons. When they were announced Larry was booed but got some cheers, Gooden got all cheers. That figures. --Wally Szczerbiak made it back from New York to play in the game. His son was born yesterday. --Larry said before the game that being happy was more important to him than being on a winning team. More on that later. --The Bulls are a jump shot team, where Larry fits in, and they are very streaky. Keeping them from getting easy baskets on their drive-and-kicks will be important if the Cavs want to win. They are also not a team that does well in close games, which would be the Cavs advantage later. --With Varejao and Wallace playing together so much, it will be interesting to see how the Cavs operate on offense. It seems easy to press and trap James, which teams are figuring out.
Halftime -- Cavs 42, Bulls 39
--This is a putrid display of offensive basketball. All the Bulls do is chuck it and the Cavs are a total mess on offense. They have no idea where they are supposed to be, everyone is looking at each other like they don't know who is moving where. If not for LeBron, who had 23 points, not just junking it and shooting the Cavs would be in terrible shape. --Not having Ilgauskas takes away a focal point on offense, it is easy to dump it into him and then set things up from there. But when LeBron is out of the game with no Ilgauskas, it looks terrible. Why there are no plays run for Joe Smith in that position, I have no idea. If there were strides made on offense against Minnesota, there's been a step back today. --So far this has been Delonte West's worst game with the team, he's not in rhythm and he's not pushing the ball effectively. He's running the court but seems to be out of position or at least his teammates have been. --Larry Hughes got six shots up in his first six minutes on the floor. That fits in nicely with the Bulls mentality. Krik Hinrich looks to create for others and, actually, Drew Gooden has made some nice interior passes, but it seems the Bulls mostly seem to just want to shoot jumpers. The next pass Ben Gordon makes to set up a teammate will be the first today and all Andres Nocioni, who was one of my favorite Bulls, is just hoisting 3-pointers. He took one in transition that was contested with no other Bulls down the floor. Now, that's not how the Argentineans play, I know that. --Can you tell I'm sickened by the offense I've seen in this half?
Stars LeBron, 37 points, six rebounds, six assists Szczerbiak, 17 points Hughes, 23 points, five rebounds
Quotes: LeBron: "I just live for the fourth quarter. When the games are close, that’s when I like to do work. I know how to turn it on and turn it off. It’s just a comfort level I’m in right now that’s at an all-time high.” Gooden: "Trying to stop LeBron, I kind of got the other end of the stick. You know how it goes.”