Bulls Defy Odds With Win Against Cavs
Of all teams to trash talk James and the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems ridiculous that it's coming from Team Dysfunction, the Bulls, where an under-prepared coach and his overly hot-tempered boss are fighting, physically, behind closed doors. It is doubly laughable that it's coming from Noah, best known in Chicago for arriving on draft day a few years ago looking, roughly, like a clown.
And triply ridiculous? Chicago 108, Cleveland 106.
Somehow, Noah seems different when he's pulling down 15 rebounds in the playoffs.
"I don't want people to think I'm some kind of circus freak," he said. "Just cause I say things like, 'Cleveland sucks,' doesn't mean I'm not going out and giving all I've got."
In fact, Bulls fans chanted that throughout the night, while the Bulls pulled way ahead and deep down, every fan in the place was just waiting for James to decide to take over and win it.
Did the Bulls get into James' head?
Hah! No way. But I don't think that's the point, anyway.
In fact, I think Noah is trying to get into the Bulls' heads, in his own big-shoed, red-nosed way.
The Bulls have no presence in this series. From the start, it was LeBron, Shaquille O'Neal and a bunch of other guys. And Noah's goal is simply to not give up the fight before it has started, to not spend every waking minute talking about how great James is, talking themselves out of any hope.
Which, really, they don't have. Still, the Bulls talked, and won Thursday night.
"I don't want to give him too much credit," Noah said. "We have to play them again."
Well, it's hard to blame James for this. He did have 39 points and 10 rebounds. And when Bulls guard Derrick Rose was scoring too much late in the game, James informed his coach -- his name doesn't seem important -- that he was now going to cover Rose.
Still, I cannot get past the idea Noah just trash talked James, and then won, anyway.
This is supposed to be the year that James, the best player in the world, wins his first title. I still think he will. No way will the Cavs, now up 2-1 in the series, lose to the Bulls. But it didn't seem possible that they would have lost this game, either.
And right here in this building, with a Michael Jordan statue just outside, it's tough to accept that James didn't win this game by himself, especially after the Cavs had cut the deficit from 21 to 5 with 7-1/2 minutes left in the game.
The night was set up as a history lesson for people in Cleveland. At least for people of a certain age. The Bulls teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s always seemed to crush Cleveland's hopes by script, with heroics coming from, well, you know.
The Shot came in 1989, with Jordan over Craig Ehlo. You've seen the replay. They still show it all the time, with Jordan's pumped-fist, jumping celebration.
"It almost seemed like he was going for a career high every game against Cleveland," said James, who grew up in Akron.
Did he take The Shot hard?
"Take it hard?" he said. "When was that? '89? I was 5. No, I wanted to hit the same shot after he made it."
James, who was actually four when Jordan took the shot, said he practiced on his Little Tikes baby hoop.
Memory says that Jordan would have won this game on Thursday. Of course, memory also has it that Jordan never missed a shot and never lost any games.
The Cavs do have a few worries here. They have let the Bulls, who don't have much of an offense, score more than 100 points in each of the past two games.
And Shaq, who came back for this series after missing about seven weeks with a bad thumb, looks awful. Against a high-energy guy like Noah, O'Neal appears to be about 100 years old. Meanwhile, the team has to figure out whether it is better off with him, or going with a small lineup.
Best guess: The people of Cleveland are already nervous. Coach Mike Brown talked before the game about people of Cleveland trying to give him an education on their pain.
"Going through the agony of Michael's shot on Craig Ehlo ... .the Fumble, the Drive (both Cleveland Browns heartbreaks)," he said. "I don't want to date myself, but some of that happened before I was born."
It's on your shoulders now.
What about Jose Mesa, someone asked him.
"Who's Jose Mesa?"
Look it up under Cleveland Indians, World Series. Choke.
So this was the first time the Cavs have played Chicago in the post-season since Jordan left. And James is supposed to be Cleveland's Jordan. And some guy named Noah was trash-talking. And the stories in Chicago are about Coach Vinny Del Negro and de facto GM John Paxson, getting into their dust-up.
In the fourth quarter, James tried to draw all the attention of the Bulls defense, and then fire passes to open teammates, who would miss.
"I have all the confidence in the world in my teammates,'' he said.
Jordan used to call them his "supporting cast.''
And late in the game, the crowd was chanting MVP ...
For Derrick Rose, the young Bulls guard and expected next star, who scored 31 points. How did it sound to hear that?
"I almost passed out," he said. "Maybe one year. But not this year."
No, this isn't his year or Noah's or the Bulls'. Not even close. But it was their ridiculous night.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org