LeBron James nearly notched a triple-double in the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls, but James knew he didn't play up to his lofty standards in that defeat. James vowed to be more aggressive in Game 2, and he backed up that promise with 33 points in a 106-91 beat down of Chicago to even up the series.
It was obvious from the start that James was in the zone, sporting his trademark headband once again. The Cavaliers' first two buckets came off assists from James, and his first two buckets came in the paint. This was part of a 13-2 run to start the game, which was the complete opposite of how Game 1 started.
James finished the first quarter with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, with four of his points coming at the free throw line. The four-time MVP went 4-of-5 from the charity stripe in the first quarter after going just 1-of-2 at the line all of Game 1.
When it was all said and done, James shot 13-of-29 from the field, 7-of-9 from the free throw line and was a game-high +31. Here's his shot chart for the game:
James made a killing finishing at the rim, and 62 percent of his shots came in the paint. While 59 percent of his shots came in the paint in Game 1, there were five less attempts overall in that game. Combine the increase in attempts and the increase in free throws, and it's clear how much more aggressive he was looking to get his points around the basket. Jimmy Butler is a great defender, but sometimes it's close to impossible to stop LeBron when he's dead set on getting to the rim.
As evidenced by this shot chart and by what happened in Game 1, Butler and the Bulls need to do whatever they can to keep James on the perimeter. That's much easier said than done, although there are times when James gets iso-crazy and settles for contested jumpers. Considering he's 4-of-20 from outside the paint through two games in this series, those jumpers are usually a win for Chicago.
But if we see uber-aggressive James throughout the rest of this series, the Bulls could be in some trouble. The Cavaliers feed off their leader, and if he's engaged, there's a good chance his teammates are as well. Chicago will need to respond back on its home court in Game 3.
3 other things we learned
James Harden found his mojo: After a sub-par effort in a disappointing Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden got off to a rough start in a Game 2 that once again didn't involve Chris Paul. The three-ball wasn't falling and turnovers were a problem once again. When Harden went to the bench early in the third quarter with four fouls and his Houston Rockets down 11, the situation looked grim.
However, Harden found his mojo when he returned later in the third quarter, and he started to find it by doing what he does best: getting to the free throw line. He scored 20 of his team-high 32 points after returning from his foul trouble, with 16 points coming in the fourth quarter. The MVP runner-up made all 15 of his free throws in the game, and the Rockets attempted 64 free throws on the night, the most in a playoff game since 1993.
Tristan Thompson was a spark: After Mike Miller failed miserably in Game 1, Cavaliers head coach David Blatt turned to Thompson in the starting lineup. The move paid off, as Thompson helped frustrate Pau Gasol into a rough night after Gasol torched Cleveland in Game 1. Thompson gave the Cavaliers more versatility defensively when guarding pick and rolls, which helped keep the open looks for Gasol to a minimum.
Thompson also smoked Gasol on the backboards. Thompson is one of the better offensive rebounders in the league, and six of his 12 rebounds on the night were of the offensive variety, while Gasol had just four rebounds total. Cleveland had 14 offensive boards as a team, leading to 23 second chance points.
Not done, Thompson put the exclamation point on the victory:
The adjustments on Blake Griffin paid off for the Rockets: Griffin has been a monster in these playoffs, and he was well on his way to another incredible performance against the Rockets after notching a triple-double in Game 1. The Clippers star scored 26 points in the first half in Game 2, a playoff career-high.
However, some key adjustments helped limit Griffin to just eight second-half points. When Rockets head coach Kevin McHale opted to go small, Trevor Ariza took the Griffin assignment, and Ariza made it a point to deny Griffin the ball. There was a lot of fronting involved, and that helped get Griffin out of his rhythm. He shot just 2-of-9 in the second half.
Play of the Night
Yeah, I'd say LeBron was properly aggressive in Game 2.
8 fun things
Check out LeBron's liquid nitrogen chamber.
Mike Dunleavy had one of the worst shots you'll ever see.
DeAndre Jordan and Ekpe Udoh have an incredible handshake.
Charles Barkley gave the perfect description of LeBron.
Joakim Noah and Cardale Jones are feuding.
Austin Rivers was having a good fourth quarter, until he wasn't.
Shaq had quite the night, from falling down on the TNT set to dancing around in a giant turkey costume.
Cavaliers 106, Bulls 91 (Fear The Sword recap | Blog a Bull recap | SB Nation recap)
Rockets 115, Clippers 109 (The Dream Shake recap | Clips Nation recap | SB Nation recap)