INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James leaned against a padded basket stanchion and spun a ball on his index finger. As it rotated, his brain seemed to be turning just as quickly.
He’s plotting his next move against the Bulls.
After losing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series to Chicago, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers regrouped on Tuesday to watch film, work on outside shooting and devise a better defensive scheme to stop a pick-and-roll play the Bulls executed to near perfection during their 99-92 victory.
James came within one assist of a triple-double, but he wasn’t happy with his performance, and with Cleveland missing starters Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, the four-time league MVP knows it’s going to be up to him and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to even the series Wednesday night.
“I’ve never went into a game saying, ‘OK I’m going to be ultra-aggressive,'” he said. “I’ve always had to feel out things, but last night it was a little bit too much feel out. I only had two shots at one point. I was just not as aggressive offensively as I was defensively. We’ll see. I think I may have to change my mindset a little bit with Kev being out.”
Playing their first game in eight days, the Cavs fell behind by 16 in the first half and rallied but failed to make plays down the stretch in the loss. Cleveland won’t have Love for the remainder of the postseason and they’ll again be without Smith, serving the second game of his league-imposed suspension.
James, who has beaten Chicago in three different postseason series and never lost, labeled Game 2 “a game that we must have.”
“You can’t go down 0-2 on your home floor,” he said.
Forced to adjust his lineup and rotations, Cavs coach David Blatt started veteran forward Mike Miller with disastrous results. Miller couldn’t guard Mike Dunleavy, who went 5-for-5 and scored 13 points in the first quarter, helping the Bulls blast to a 14-point lead. Miller contributed three points and five rebounds, but he recorded a plus-minus of minus-20 during 16 minutes.
Blatt said he’s contemplating changes “to get an edge” but did not divulge any plans.
Cleveland’s biggest adjustment needs to come on defense as Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol exploited the Cavs with a “pick-and-pop” play. Gasol set high screens for Rose, who either drove to the basket or passed the ball to the veteran forward. Gasol went 10 of 16 from the field and scored 21.
Blatt said there’s 12 ways to defend a pick-and-roll, but the Cavs didn’t find one that could stop Gasol, who was wide open on many of his shots.
“It wasn’t miscommunication,” James said when asked why the Cavs couldn’t stop one of basketball’s most basic plays. “Some of it was some of our game plan, and some of it was we could’ve gave a better effort.”
As is always the case, James’ effort was analyzed and criticized. Some fans and observers seemed to think he could have done more.
James went just 9-of-22 from the floor, but what most upset him was his six turnovers, including two in the final 4:30. There were times when he appeared passive on offense, but he also had to guard nearly every player in Chicago’s lineup as the Cavs scrambled on defense against a Bulls team growing in confidence.
Blatt said all the Cavs need to step up their games, not just James.
“Overall we all have to do a better job offensively,” he said. “And I said this before at the start of the playoffs; it’s not fair to put it all on one guy. Teams win and lose games and everyone has to give a little bit more at both ends of the court. Our margin for error is smaller and we have to make up for that with multiple effort on the part of everyone.”
The Bulls can sense that James may shift into another gear in Game 2.
They’ve seen it before.
“I think he’s going to try and dictate the whole game from both sides of the ball,” said Rose, whose right shoulder is fine after he sustained a “stinger” late in Game 1. “That’s something we have to be prepared for because he can actually do that.”
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