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.
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.
“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.