Bulls

3 unsung keys to the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Cavs

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3 unsung keys to the Bulls' Game 1 victory over the Cavs

The Bulls knocked off the Cavaliers, 99-92, in Game 1 to take back home court advantage in their best-of-seven series with the Eastern Conference favorites.

Here are three keys that may have gone unnoticed but led to that crucial victory:

Mike Dunleavy: Mike Dunleavy had to be the most difficult “Where’s Waldo” piece ever, because the Cavaliers couldn’t find him early at all. He came in shooting 55 percent from 3-point range and upped that percentage against a porous Cavs perimeter defense, hitting three of four and scoring 13 of the Bulls’ 27 first-quarter points.

Considering the Bulls had slow starts headed into Game 6 of the Bucks series, there was genuine concern if they could muster the requisite offense to match the expected production of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

[RELATED: Rose rises to the occasion, leads Bulls to Game 1 win]

Dunleavy did it himself, allowing Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose to work themselves into the game against a loose defense and a Cavs team that seemed quite unsure of the overall game plan.

Getting off to that 10-2 start was more than enough to quell every nervous tick in the Bulls’ psyche.

Controlling Tristan Thompson: One of the league’s most devastating offensive rebounders had very little effect on that end, and it wasn’t for lack of opportunities as the Cavaliers shot 42 percent from the field. Tristan Thompson found himself being face-guarded by Taj Gibson or Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah whenever a shot went up, as the Bulls were more than cognizant of the second shots Thompson creates.

He finished with three offensive rebounds but the Cavaliers finished with only 11, negating an advantage that was evident in the regular season when Thompson grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in an overtime win in Chicago in the opening days of the season.

[MORE: Bulls vs. Cavs -- Who's got the edge?]

“He’s probably as good as it gets in terms of going to the boards, and sometimes it requires more than one (guy),” Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s physical. We’ve got to make sure we keep a body on him. Sometimes you do that and he still manages to get to it.”

Clank, clank, clank: The Bulls held the Cavaliers to just 27 percent shooting from 3-point range, as they limited the open shots created by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to a minimum aside from Iman Shumpert. Irving and James shot under 50 percent, and combined to go 1-for-8 from 3-point range themselves. They truly miss Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, as Smith will be back for Game 3 in Chicago. Shumpert hit four of 10 triples, many of them contested and momentum-changing. But the Cavaliers’ other guys couldn’t take advantage of the chances they were given, leading to the Game 1 win.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Vincent Goodwill previews free agency

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kevin Anderson are joined by Yahoo Sports NBA insider Vincent Goodwill

0:45 - Vinnie on basketball never stopping

1:55 - On Bulls selection of Coby White

2:45 - Dynamic between Kris Dunn and White

5:30 - Are Bulls likely to bring in a veteran point guard to mentor White?

7:30 - What kind of contract is Pat Beverley looking at?

9:40 - Will Bulls have enough cap space to sign three free agents?

11:50 - Vinnie on his vote for Zach LaVine for Most Improved Player

13:25 - On the NBA Awards show and its timing

15:45 - On Giannis and the Bucks, where can he still develop?

18:05 - On Kevin Durant and his options in free agency

21:40 - Why Durant will want to control his own destiny

23:30 - Vinnie on Jimmy Butler and where he may end up

26:10 - Vinnie on why he didn’t play in the media tournament during the NBA Finals

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

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AP

The 1995-1998 Bulls belong on the list of 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

Listen, Tom. We like you. A lot. You do incredible work and you give us shoutouts. But we had to read through your latest piece, “Ranking the 10 greatest lineups in NBA history,” a few times before realizing you had a massive omission.

We present the following: The 1995-1998 Chicago Bulls.


PG: Ron Harper
SG: Michael Jordan
SF: Scottie Pippen
PF: Toni Kukoc
C: Dennis Rodman

Total All-Star appearances: 23
MVP Players: 1
DPOY Players: 2
Finals MVP Players: 1
Titles won together: 3

We thank you for mentioning Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in your piece. They were pretty good, we agree. We’ll dig a little deeper on those two to begin our argument. From 1995 to 1998, Jordan averaged 29.6 points on 48% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals. He also didn’t miss a game, playing in 304 of a possible 304 games. He was also named league MVP twice and Finals MVP all three years. Pippen wasn’t too shabby a sidekick, averaging 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists in that three-year span.

These guys were all-time greats, but you might have forgotten that they weren’t alone.

All Dennis Rodman did in this three-season span was lead the league in rebounding all three years (15.3 per game). He wasn’t the same All-Star talent that he was in his Detroit days – also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year – and his San Antonio stint but he was still critical to the Bulls’ success. The Worm had a little bit of Draymond Green in him, not afraid to take on any defensive assignment to allow the Bulls a little more versatility. He got assignments of Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone in the Finals.

Kukoc is where we bend the rules a bit, but we hope you’ll allow it (mostly because our argument turns to dust if we need to talk about Luc Longley). Kukoc was the 1996 Sixth Man of the Year (hey, you said they could be closing lineups, too) and was a model of consistency in those three seasons. He averaged 13.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists and gave the Bulls another ball handler and distributor, as well as versatile defense. He’s at times the forgotten gem of the Jerry Krause era, and he’s more than just a funny story from the Dream Team era.

The Bulls had their Iguodala, too. Ron Harper averaged a modest 7.7 points and 2.7 assists in these three seasons with the Bulls. But he also did it with a 14.9% usage rate. That was lower than Bill Wennington’s usage rate of 17.0% in that same span! Let’s not forget that Harper had averaged 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in eight seasons with the Cavaliers and Clippers before signing with the Jordan-less Bulls. He would have had a much larger and more effective role had Jordan not returned (we’re glad he did). In 1998, Harper also had the pleasure of guarding Gary Payton and John Stockton in the Bulls’ three Finals victories. Have you had enough of the Iggy comparisons yet?

So there it is. Five incredible players to put together three remarkable championship seasons that included the Greatest Team in the History of Basketball (our capitalization intended). Feel free to update your story as needed.