With the series all knotted up at 2-2, the Cleveland Cavaliers head back to their home confines of Quicken Loans Arena to take on the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. Thanks to LeBron James’ game-winner before the buzzer on Sunday, the Cavaliers have an opportunity many did not think they would—the chance to move to 3-2 and take the series lead.
After losing Kevin Love in the Boston series and touting out an obviously seriously injured Kyrie Irving, the expectation of winning this series against the Bulls dropped significantly. But after pulling out a tough one in Chicago on Sunday, the Cavaliers exposed three keys to winning tonight’s game against the Bulls.
Shoot Fewer Threes and Attack the Hole
After shooting a dismal 5-of-25 from three-point land on Sunday, the Cavaliers cannot afford to leave that many opportunities on the board again tonight and expect to win. With J.R. Smith accounting for 3-of-6 from downtown, that means the rest of the team went 2-of-19 from long range.
The Cavaliers were clearly much more effective when attacking the rack, and with Pau Gasol out for a second consecutive game—the Bulls are lacking size inside. When it comes to attacking, this all starts with James—who hoisted 30 shots in Sunday’s win. Of those 30 shots, 16 of them came from outside of the paint and he made just four of those attempts. James was easily more efficient when taking the ball inside, so he needs to get back to that from the get go on Tuesday night.
If the Cavaliers needed any more reason to attack the hole, then here is one more—they have been outstanding from the free throw line. They were 23-of-24 (95.8 percent) in Game 4, 18-of-19 (94.7 percent) in Game 3 and 17-of-19 (89.5 percent) in Game 1. The only game in which they struggled was in Game 2, as they shot 20-of-29 (69 percent).
Establish the Bigs Early in the Paint
Sticking with the theme of attacking, the Cavaliers need to establish Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson’s presence early in Game 5. Mozgov finished Sunday’s contest with 15 points and nine rebounds, but was difficult to defend down low when he stayed aggressive. As long as he does not play soft and keeps dunking with authority, he is very difficult for a Gasol-less Bulls team to defend down low.
In regard to Thompson, he isn’t the most offensively talented player on the roster—but he has the ability to work inside and get shots at the rim. With the ability to hit that jumper just outside of the paint (well, odd-looking floater), Thompson should feed off the early energy of the crowd and get some buckets for the team.
Keep a Hand in All Jump Shooters Faces
This one is pretty simple. When the Bulls have been at their best, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and company have been left open for jumpers. This means the Cavaliers need to effectively work through screens, switch if necessary and recover quickly in order to prevent open shots.
Game 1 of this series was a perfect example of how not to do all of these things. So this is easily the most important of the three keys to victory on this list. Keep the Bulls out of rhythm and unable to knock down jumpers at The Q, and the Cavaliers will absolutely be looking to close out this series on Thursday night in Chicago.