You can look at Chicago's Game 1 in two different ways. One being the Bulls coming through and getting the job done, which they did. Or, them acquired two solid big leads, only to have them both drop back to Earth before closing it out.
The pessimist in me is concerned about that last view, and not due to Chicago's inactivity, because for once that wasn't there, but rather Cleveland's raw talent level. After coming out hot, especially from downtown, the Bulls did everything they could to keep momentum going, but the Cavs were still able to chip away at that lead through, at times, ridiculous shot-making. Now, ridiculous shotmaking is never sustainable, but neither is 55.6% from three, as the Bulls shot. In many ways, Game 1 represented som oddities that are unlikely to present themselves again, meaning you cannot plan around these factors. Sure, if the three is there it'd be ridiculous to not take the shot, but after their hot start, the Bulls tended to seek out the long-ball, which should be a non-starter going into tonight's game.
If anything, tonight will be LeBron James's evening. He'll come out aggressive, score his 11-13 points in the opening quarter, force the defense to collapse on him, and let his shooters secure a near double-digit lead for halftime, after which he'll sporadically score in the third quarter, and then close it off with another 11-13 points in the fourth quarter. That's pretty much how any LeBron James redemption game has gone, and the Bulls need to be aware of this. Monday's strategy of letting Iman Shumpert be the one to beat them was an underrated aspect of Tom Thibodeau's preparation, even if Shumpert did score 22 points. The point was to have shots go through his hands, instead of LeBron's or Kyrie Irving's, and given that Shumpert took 17 shots, it was a point well made. However this will not the be the case tonight, in part due to the aforementioned LeBron take-over, but also due to Irving who is sneaky terrific at playing off LeBron himself. He's the guy the Bulls have to look out for, regardless of LeBron getting his 38-42 points. Shutting down Irving should be at the very top of the blackboard.
(A bonus would be Jimmy Butler once again succeeding in giving LeBron a hard time, and take him by surprise from the very beginning, which would throw Cleveland's entire game plan off.)
Now, offensively it'll be difficult for the Bulls. The odds are against them in having another über effective night, seeing as:
- Derrick Rose looked pretty spent after Game 1.
- They aren't going to shoot 10-for-18 from three again.
- Pau Gasol isn't going to drain mid-range jumpers at the same clip.
- Mike Dunleavy isn't going to score 14 points on six shots again.
Basically, the offense will have to re-create itself tonight, preferably by having the Bulls forcing themselves to the basket. They attempted just 16 free throws in Game 1, with six of those attempts coming in the game's final 21 seconds. The Bulls do themselves no favors by not getting to the line, so this has to change. This means more Pau Gasol post-ups, more off-ball cutting from Jimmy Butler, some gut-check time drives by Rose, and an active Taj Gibson lurking around that baseline, which he's gotten so very, very good at.
The Bulls may very well have acquired home court advantage, but that does little to reject the true notion of this: Tonight is the most important game of the season. There is no way around it. Winning tonight would mean more than momentum. Imagine the United Center crowd if Game 3 tips off with the Bulls leading the series 2-0. Imagine the overwhelming confidence boost that comes in having control of a series in which LeBron James is playing in.
Tonight, without question, is the biggest game of the season and the Bulls's play needs to indicate that.