This should strike fear into everybody else in the league, because this is flat out scary.
Rookie forward James Johnson checked into the game at the 4:37 mark and inherited the inevitable task of guarding LeBron. Physically, it was that much of a mismatch at first. Johnson stands tall and firm at six-foot-nine, 245 pounds. He is build similarly to LeBron, and though he is more of a power forward, he was doing a pretty good job of sticking with James. In fact, this was one of the first instances that I had ever seen a team successfully find someone with the same size as James that was completely burned.
Johnson got up in LeBron’s face. He’s a rookie and he didn’t know better. For the most part, it was working. James wasn’t getting a lot of space and he had to get rid of the ball as the shot clock winded down on a couple of possessions. But then, in game, without a timeout, James adjusted. He simply called for a high pick from Big Z and used the screen to keep Johnson at bay.
And then, it happened. What LeBron did to James Johnson at the 1:00 minute mark was most likely the most impressive play I have seen all season long. James isolated 18-feet from the basket near the top of the left side of the key. He caught the ball with 11 seconds on the shot clock, starred Johnson in the eyes for six seconds, stepped into the lane in an instant, elevated and absolutely crushed James Johnson’s grill which was followed by a roar fit for a King.
It was then that I realized that this guy probably doesn’t like the Chicago Bulls and decided to take it on a poor rookie forward that was actually doing a decent job of defending him (I’m not sure why he felt he needed to contest that shot. You can see the video posted later today).
Of course, not all was good for the Cavaliers. By simply getting outworked on the boards and being sloppy with the basketball, Cleveland allowed the Bulls to tie the basketball game at the end of the third quarter at 77. It wasn’t long before LeBron decided to end things, though, making his first basket with around eight minute left, which was followed by two freebies, a three, a lay-up, a 20-foot jumper, and a 19-foot jumper to close things out. James was so dialed in that it was ridiculous. He was hitting on that jumper all night long, which makes him impossible to guard, especially when you know if you crowd him, the result may be a poster with your name on it.
James finished with a sick line of 40 points on 16-of-23 shooting (!), with eight rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, a steal and one of the all-time greatest poster slams. With the way he finished out the game in the fourth quarter, you know he’s dialed in right now. Maybe the intensity level drops when he is no longer playing notorious Cleveland hater Joakim Noah but still, you need to watch this guy play in the final two games of this series and for the remainder of the playoffs. You’re guaranteed to see something special.
(Note: I’ve been to Cleveland. Not that great.)
Of course, not everything was great for the Cavs. The fact that LeBron had to close out this game was something in itself. The Bulls made this a game when the Cavs should have ended it by halftime. After going through the season as one of the best defensive teams in the league, its hard to figure out how Cleveland was managed to give up 115.9 points per 100 possessions to the 27th worst offense in the NBA. The Bulls won the majority of the hustle categories, outrebounding Cleveland 37-38, moving the ball better to the tune of 25 assists, and keeping better care of the basketball, surrendering just four turnovers to the Cavs’ 11.
While LeBron was certainly a beast and turned in an all-time great performance, he wasn’t the difference in this game. In the end, Cleveland won this game because of fluky three-point shooting from Jamario Moon, who hit four of his five three-point attempts with three of those coming in the fourth quarter. In the media room after the game, as Noah exited the room and Moon entered it, Noah said to him “Try making those shots in Chi[cago].” He won’t. He had 12 points and the Cavs won by 10.
Usually the three ball is the great equalizer for the underdog and it seems unfair to see the Bulls outwork everybody but LeBron in this contest but lose because the Cavaliers caught fire from deep. Cleveland hit 10-of-20 shots from long range while the Bulls made just three and everyone was shocked when they went down. Getting a perimeter scorer that can shoot the three has to be priority number one for Chicago this off-season.
With the way the Bulls fought back and game one and competed throughout this entire game, it will be interesting to see if they can win one in their home building. Its not like the United Center is the Rose Garden, but things change when the scenery does, which, coupled with their grit, heart, and desire to pull of the monumental upset, gives the Bulls a chance to win a game or two.I’ll keep this one short and sweet. The Jazz decided to push the pace and keep up with Denver on the offense end in order to assure they were no huge runs where Denver got good looks in transition while Utah plodded around in the half-court offense.
Deron Williams did a great job of pacing the offense. He’d bring it up quickly, slow down, and then go into attack mode. He caught the defense on guard and was able to get relatively easy looks at the basket. He finished with 33 points on seven-of-14 shooting, with three three’s, 18 free throw attempts (16 makes), and 14 assists (seven turnovers). This guy is something oh so special when he is jumper is wet. There is nothing he can’t do offensively with his combination of the four S’s: size, speed, strength, and smarts.
Carmelo Anthony had a rough go of things compared to Game 1, as he missed 16 of his 25 field goal attempts. However, to make up for his struggles, Melo got to the line 15 times and converted on 14 freebies. Anthony ended up fouling out with 24 seconds left in the game, which was particularly devastating when the Nuggets were down three on the final play of regulation. Carmelo could have gotten up a good look from three but instead Chauncey Billups, who seems to look worse and worse by the minute, tried to shoot a runner from behind the three-point line.
Utah and Denver both finished with 32 rebounds apiece, which should be discouraging for Denver considering Utah played without a true center for the majority of the game. Carlos Boozer had a huge game on the glass, pulling down 15 rebounds while shooting 10-of-16 from the floor for 20 points. If Kyrylo Fesenko can stop being Andrew Bynum in last year’s playoffs by fouling every five minutes (five hacks in 20 minutes in this game), its possible that he can actually provide a nice help to Utah because of his size as a rebounder a defender at the rim.
This series has the feeling of a classic with the way these two teams play. Denver is lazy sometimes and great at others while the Jazz always bring it despite being injured all over. I’d say advantage Jazz at this point as they have stolen home court. Carmelo and Deron are going to trade huge games until this series is over. Melo had his huge Game 1 and Williams dominated this contest with hot shooting and by setting the pace. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.