Leads in the NBA can disappear in a heartbeat, especially with the increased importance of the 3-point shot, but the Bulls’ scoring droughts prevented them from building upon leads in Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Of course, it was moot when LeBron James hit his game-winner from the left baseline at the buzzer, tying the hotly-contested series at 2-2. But the Bulls went extended periods in the second and fourth quarter where they could’ve applied true pressure to a reeling Cavaliers team, having a 37-29 lead in the second and 68-57 lead in the waning moments of the third.
What ensued was the Bulls not doing the things that earned the lead — moving the ball to second and third options and putting extra stress on a Cavaliers perimeter defense that has an overworked James and severely hobbled Kyrie Irving.
“I think it's the flow of the game,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “There were definitely some shots we wanted back. I mean, big lead, eight points, 10 points. There's no such thing as a big lead. That doesn't mean anything.”
Noah’s initial statement could certainly be attributed to the events in the first half, when both teams have plenty of time to take a feel for the game and rebound before things get out of hand.
And with the Bulls being without Pau Gasol, it put others in increased roles, or in the case of Nikola Mirotic, a role at all. After a productive Game 3, Mirotic couldn’t find much of anything Sunday, going missing eight of his nine shots in 18 minutes, although he registered a game-high +8 on the plus-minus scale.
“Yeah, those were good shots,” Mirotic said. “I just didn’t feel great shooting. Of course my teammates found me, there were some open shots, but I need to refresh my mind. I need to today work on my shots, and tomorrow I need to just take the shots again because I know that I’m going to make it.’’
Tom Thibodeau wasn’t too upset with Mirotic’s shot selection, but there wasn’t a lot of room to single much of anyone out aside from Derrick Rose, who shot 11-for-23 while his teammates combined to go just 21-for-66 (31 percent)
“Yeah. I mean, I'll take the shots,” Thibodeau said. “There might have been one or two that could have been a little better but for the most part, his shots were very good.”
But going nearly 10 minutes with just two field goals in the fourth quarter before Rose got going late proved to be damaging, a golden opportunity wasted.
“We gotta make shots,” Thibodeau said. “We missed a lot of open shots and we missed layups. And I thought late, we didn’t run. We gotta make sure that we run late. We got some good looks that we gotta make.”
However, in the same vein the Bulls don’t capitalize on their success, they haven’t let the disappointment of losing out on a chance to take a 3-1 lead dampen their spirits — a curse and blessing in a sense.
“There's not much you can say other than, that game is gone,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully you establish that habit throughout the course of the season. You learn from the game, analyze the things you could have done better, and get ready for the next one.
“There's going to be ups and downs in a series, you're going to be tested in every way imaginable and you have to be able to handle the ups, the downs, get through it, we've got to walk through the fire together.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]
Together, the Bulls walk into an inferno in Cleveland, facing a hobbled team that appears to have new life while they insist the heartbreak is behind them.
“You've just got to move on, can't let it linger,” Noah said. “We have to be strong mentally. I think we've gone through a lot this year as a team and we're excited.”