Post Up: Cavs Take Charge

by May 13, 2015

Cavaliers 106, Bulls 101 (Cleveland leads series, 3-2)

The Chicago Bulls opened Game 5 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on an 8-0 run to begin the first quarter, before LeBron James took over. Playing his most efficient and effective game of the series, James started 8-of-10 from the floor while totaling 24 points in the first half. He’d remain locked in from there on his way to 38 for the night to go along with 12 rebounds, 6 assists and zero turnovers, helping Cleveland to the 106-101 victory.

“I think our coaching staff did a great job of putting myself in positions where I could be successful, and I just tried to read and react,” James said postgame. “I just tried to play my game and be aggressive. Anytime you get some shots going early you feel pretty good. I was able to get my jumper going, I was able to get my postup game going pretty early, my attack game. So I was just trying to feed off of it, just tried to feed of the rhythm that I had and just tried to stay in the rhythm as long as I could.”

Playing through tendinitis in his knee and a sore foot, Kyrie Irving fed off the energy of the hometown crowd on his way to 25 points in support of the King. He collected a back-tap rebound from Iman Shumpert with less than 20 seconds remaining to calmly nail two free throws that sealed the victory. Afterwards, Coach David Blatt spoke on the impact of his two superstars.

“LeBron was just outstanding in every element of the game,” Blatt said. “You can’t pick a thing that he didn’t do at the highest level. And Kyrie has just been gutting it out. Today, it seemed like he was feeling a little bit better, but obviously not 100 percent, you could see it. But he was feeling a little bit better, and together with his heart, his performance was really high level. He took responsibility, he made plays for us and we needed every one of them.”

Playing without an injured Pau Gasol, the Bulls continued to respond to each and every run the Cavaliers mounted. Following Taj Gibson’s ejection for a kick to Matthew Dellavedova’s back, Cleveland’s lead ballooned to 92-75 late in the second half. Fueled by a series of big shots from Jimmy Butler, however, Chicago would climb all the way back to as close as 101-99 before Cleveland secured the victory and a 3-2 series lead.

Tristan Thompson turned in a highly active 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavs while Butler finished with 29 and 9 for Chicago. Derrick Rose added 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists and Mike Dunleavy chipped in 19. The series now moves to Chicago with a chance for Cleveland to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with a Game 6 victory.

—Brendan Bowers

Rockets 124, Clippers 103 (LA leads series, 3-2)

Right when it seemed like the Rockets were down and out for the season, they came roaring back for a crucial blowout victory to stay alive at least for one more game.

Houston took down LA 124-103 thanks to a triple-double from James Harden (26 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), who wasn’t feeling well going into Tuesday’s game. Sick or not, Harden seemed to make the right play every time the ball was in his hands. This was Houston’s first Playoff triple-double since Steve Francis in 2004. He only got to the line eight times but found ways to impact the game in other ways.

Dwight Howard (20 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) finally stopped letting LA get in his head and posted a dominant double-double against DeAndre Jordan (13 points, 11 rebounds) and the Clippers frontline. The Rockets destroyed the Clippers on the boards 58-39 while outscoring them 64-46 in the paint. They also held a dominating 17-3 advantage in fast break points, as Corey Brewer (15 points, 5-8 from the field) received his usual amount of outlet passes. The Rockets were attacking the boards and pushing the ball once they grabbed it. And when the Rockets got the ball up the court, Trevor Ariza (22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 4-6 on 3-pointers) was spotting up behind the 3-point line and burying his shots. When Ariza is hitting his shots, his entire game seems to improve as he gets up and down the floor quicker and zones in on defense.

Houston used a 36-point outburst in the second quarter to really take control of this game, led by Harden’s 14 points in the twelve minutes. The Clippers made a push at the start of the second half, but Houston still took a 14-point lead going into the final quarter. With Josh Smith (9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Clint Capela (8 points, 4-4 from the field) providing energy, the Rockets used a 16-8 run at the beginning of the quarter to build a 20-point lead and put the Clippers away for good. The insertion of Smith into the starting lineup seemed to counterbalance Blake Griffin’s (30 points, 16 rebounds) versatility and quickness to start. And Terrence Jones (12 points, 5 rebounds) became a sparkplug off the bench, making a couple big shots in the third.

The Clippers seemed to be playing tight and tentative all night. Griffin and Chris Paul (22 points, 10 assists) both put up good lines but never really made any game-changing plays. Houston had its back against the wall and played more focused in the process.

The biggest downfall for LA came from their bench, as Jamal Crawford (5 points, 1-5 on 3-pointers) and Austin Rivers (8 points, -17) combined to shoot 5-21 (23.8 percent) from the field for only 13 points. The only bench player who played well was Spencer Hawes (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5-7 from the field), who actually kept the Clippers alive during the second quarter when his team couldn’t get any stops.

To add to the Clippers’ shooting woes, JJ Redick (9 points, 3-12 from the field) and Matt Barnes (5 points, 1-8 from the field) combined to shoot 2-12 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range while Los Angeles shot 9-35 (25.7 percent) as a team. The Rockets had one of the best defenses against the three during the regular season and it showed Tuesday night.

As bad as they looked during the two losses in LA, Houston has remained one of the most consistent teams in the NBA over the span of the entire season. With the win Tuesday, they still have not lost three games in a row. If they want to keep their season alive and win this series, they will need the Clippers to lose three straight games, starting with Game 6 on Thursday night.

—Jay Wallis