CLEVELAND — It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that either the long layoff hurt LeBron James or Chicago’s defense did in Game 1 on Monday, with the road team taking full advantage in stealing the series opener.
And the beauty of this delicate dance between two talented teams is James has a chance to respond, while the Bulls have a chance to prepare for the alterations James will try to make.
For one, anybody with a set of eyes can tell you James wasn’t his usual aggressive self. Jimmy Butler wasn’t backing down and he had a gang of teammates behind him ready to help, knowing not too many of James’ teammates could beat them.
“I have to be better,” James said.
James’ 19 points weren’t enough, nor were his 22 shots. In his third opening-game series loss to the Chicago Bulls, their star, Derrick Rose, didn’t want to hear anything about the past. Rose has deflected bringing up the past in interviews leading into the series and took the same tone Tuesday after the Bulls’ film session.
“I hadn’t thought about it unless I’m being asked,” Rose said.
But when asked what he feels James is going through mentally, Rose offered a glimpse into James’ thinking.
“I think he’s…I really don’t know,” Rose said. “Being aggressive, I think he’s gonna try to dictate the whole game from both sides of the ball.”
“And we have to prepare for that because he can actually do that. There’s a couple things he can do but I don’t want to talk about it (laughs).”
James has publicly stated he’ll be more aggressive, and the Cavaliers have to strategically change plenty of things before Game 2 — most notably their deplorable pick-and-roll defense — but one has to wonder if a change in James’ attitude will be the biggest alteration.
But if James takes over, will that play right into the Bulls’ hands? Talk about a delicate dance the Bulls are walking, along with James. If James becomes super aggressive, what does that do to Kyrie Irving, a player who isn’t a natural facilitator?
[SHOP: Get the latest Bulls gear here]
Strategically, the Cavaliers could run more with their smallish lineup, but Cavaliers coach David Blatt could be overmatched here.
“They have a unique offense because of what LeBron brings to them,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Kyrie can handle the point. You can never let your guard down against them. They can score 10 points in less than a minute. They can play in a number of ways and you have to be ready for the different looks and hopefully we can do a good job getting our defense back and being set.”
Along with Iman Shumpert, who scored a surprising 22 points, those three were the only impactful men wearing home whites on Monday night. And the Bulls certainly appear to have struck a blow that could last longer than 48 minutes.
Rose was asked how the Cavaliers would play him any differently, but he could very well have been James speaking about what the Bulls do to him.
“Who knows? That’s the great thing about the playoffs,” Rose said. “Even if I’m not scoring or having a bad game you gotta figure things out. I can’t go into the game having that thought in my mind. Only having good thoughts.”
It’s certainly going to take more than good thoughts for James to overcome another complex puzzle, one which the Bulls are happy to change around rapidly every game this series.