Chicago Bulls (18-18) 106
Cleveland Cavaliers (26-8) 94
The Cleveland Cavaliers should consider changing their name to the Cleveland Infirmary. With JR Smith out with a fractured thumb, Kyrie Irving out with a sore hamstring, Kevin Love out with supposed food poisoning1, and LeBron James sick, it was possible that Tristan Thompson was going to be the only starter healthy and playing when the Chicago Bulls came to town on Wednesday night.
LeBron gave it a go, however, and for a while, it looked like the Cavaliers were going to be just fine. Cleveland jumped out to a quick 15-2 lead and there was hope that maybe the Bulls hadn’t brought their best game. The Cavaliers carried a 23-16 lead to the end of the first quarter and things still seemed fine. When LeBron went to the bench, though, the game took a turn. The Cavaliers went six minutes without making a shot from late in the first quarter to early in the second, allowing the Bulls to get back into the game.
The Bulls eventually opened up a 17 point lead and the game felt like it was out of reach with four minutes left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers put up a good fight, though, and climbed all the way back to within one at 89-88 with just under seven minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that’s as close as they would get. The Bulls gathered themselves and Jimmy Butler went on a tear to secure the win for the Bulls and to get Chicago back to .500 on the season.
The Cavaliers can try to take some good out of this game. They put up a decent fight despite LeBron being under the weather and suffering a leg injury in this game and with so many starters missing the game completely. But it’s still a loss in their last home game before embarking on their big six-game road trip that concludes with a rematch against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. This was just sort of a lifeless game that got away from the Cavaliers. It’s not surprising based on the health of this team right now, but it’s still a disappointing loss as the Cavaliers hit the longest road trip of their season.
Now, the numbers:
- 4 – The story the Cavaliers are putting out there is that Kevin Love ate some bad sea bass on the team plane coming back from Charlotte on New Year’s Eve. Love wasn’t at the arena tonight as he is still having trouble keeping food down, apparently, which means his food poisoning is now lingering for four days. Anyone who has suffered through food poisoning before knows how awful it is. Going through it for this long has to be brutal. Hopefully, this passes soon and Love can quickly put the weight back on and resume his season because the Cavaliers sorely miss him right now.
- 6 – LeBron James had a nice scoring night with 31 points, and he led the team with seven assists. But the rest of the team only had six assists. The 13 team assists aren’t their lowest output of the season (that would be 10, in the game the Big 3 all sat out in Memphis), but it’s close enough. It makes sense when you consider what they were missing, but the ball movement was really poor in this game and Cleveland more or less played right into the Bulls’ defensive plan. 10 of the 13 assists came in the first half, meaning Cleveland only had three assists in the entire second half with LeBron and Jordan McRae more or less taking turns trying to attack.
- 36 to 36 – The Cavaliers are now 0-2 against the Bulls on the season. In the first matchup back in December, the Bulls outscored the Cavaliers by 18 in the paint. Wednesday night the Cavaliers did a much better job defending the paint and cutting off lanes, as they played the Bulls to a draw in the paint, 36 to 36. The Bulls had 78 points in the paint in December. On a night with few things to feel good about, that’s something.
- 21 – Jordan McRae got the start for Kyrie Irving and he scored 21 points. It wasn’t exactly the best offensive performance, but McRae did what he does best, score. He didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, but McRae did a decent job getting to the line, making 6 of 7 from the free throw line. McRae is far from the most efficient scorer you’ll ever see, but he is a hyper aggressive player on that end of the floor and on a night when two of the team’s three leading scorers were out, the Cavaliers needed McRae to put up some points.
- 0 – Rajon Rondo registered another DNP-CD in this game. In what is becoming an interesting storyline from afar, Rondo has completely fallen out of favor with the Bulls and is now racking up DNP-CD’s. Rondo wasn’t playing well at all for the Bulls and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has decided to move on to some of the younger players to give them some playing time. Rondo’s best days seem far behind him at this point, but still, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens as Rondo has made it clear he’s not interested in sticking around in Chicago just to ride the bench.
- 14 – Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 20 points. Through three quarters, the Cavaliers had kept him and Dwyane Wade in check. At the end of the third quarter, Wade had 9 points and Butler had 6. While Wade never got it going, finishing with just 10 points, Butler erupted in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his points. While the Cavaliers tried to fight back into this game, and for a minute they had all the momentum and looked like they might complete the comeback, Butler was just unstoppable down the stretch, leading his team to the win.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about this game. The Cavaliers are a team designed to supplement their Big 3. When two of them are out, along with JR Smith, they are always going to have an uphill battle. Too many players have to be asked to do more than what is normally expected from them if the team is going to have a real chance to win. LeBron can certainly cover up a lot of deficiencies, but it was just too much for him and the Cavs to overcome.
Now the Cavaliers take to the road and won’t play in Cleveland again until January 19. The opponents aren’t the toughest, but long road trips are always a difficult test. For the Cavaliers, that will only be amplified until they can at least get Kyrie and Love back on the floor. They play next in Brooklyn on Friday.
- I’m by no means a doctor, but four days seems to be an awfully long time for food poisoning to stick around [↩]