Cavs Defensive About Game 4 Victory
But the Cleveland Cavaliers insisted that their 121-98 Game 4 win over Chicago on Sunday was because of defense, not offense.
"It was good to see us get back to who we are," coach Mike Brown said after the Cavs took a 3-1 series lead over the Bulls.
Even with LeBron James recording a triple-double the Cavs want to be a strong defensive team. In Games 2 and 3 of the first-round series, they weren't.
In Game 2, Chicago had 13 offensive rebounds and 56 points in the paint. In Game 3, the Bulls scored 108 points. The Bulls topped 100 in both games, averaging 105. It's not what the Cavs expect of themselves, and not what they want -- especially if they hope to advance.
The Cavs have ranked in the top six in the league in opponents scoring in three of the past four seasons, including sixth this year (95.6) and first last season (91.4). They ranked third this season in defensive field goal percentage (44.2 percent).
Sunday the Bulls scored 98 points but shot 37.4 percent. They needed 91 shots to reach that 98-point mark. Chicago also shot just 33.3 percent on its 12 threes, while the Cavs shot 48 percent on their 25 (a 24-point advantage for Cleveland from long-range). Brown said the Cavs won because of their defense.
"LeBron was terrific with his triple-double," Brown said. "But he also set the tone for us defensively. He talked defense the whole game.
"That is who we are and who we want to be."
Whether the Bulls did not shoot well or were bothered by the Cavs' defense might depend on who is analyzing.
"We came out with a defensive mindset," Shaquille O'Neal said. "And it was good for us."
The Bulls thought there were too many quick shots.
"We did not put a lot of pressure on them," coach Vinny Del Negro said.
One move the Cavs made might have helped. The first three games, the Cavs started with Mo Williams on Derrick Rose. The Bulls' talented point guard took advantage of the matchup -- which he should have done. The first three games Rose averaged 27.3 points and 8.3 assists. Sunday, the Cavs put Anthony Parker on Rose, and he finished with 21 and 5 -- good numbers but not the same as the first three games.
"You have to respect every move that he has," Parker said. "He can change directions without missing a beat. It's tough. Mainly I try to keep him in front, try to contest the shot and pray he misses."
The Cavs signed Parker in the offseason because he's a 6-5 guard with long arms ("length" in the present parlance) who can defend. Rose's 21 points came on 20 shots.
There were other elements to the win, of course. The Cavs spent two days in Chicago thinking about how poorly they played in Game 3. Sunday, Brown went to J.J. Hickson when O'Neal and Anderson Varejao got in foul trouble, and Hickson had 10 points. The Cavs also started the game forcing the ball to O'Neal, and he played a little better than the first two games -- though he knows he has to play better still.
"When you are a part of the team you go with the program," O'Neal said. "Mike is in control of the program and whatever he says goes. I'm all about winning. I realize the last couple games I didn't play in the fourth quarter, but as long as we win the game I'm OK with that."
But O'Neal also seemed intent on the message. He turned the answers to the first seven questions he was asked toward defense -- even when he discussed scoring 121 points.
"For us, it's all about defense," he said. "Because we've got a lot of weapons."
The Cavs know that as the playoffs advance they have to return to their roots. Which means play well defensively. Sunday's postgame focus seemed like a concerted effort to remind themselves what matters.