Tuesday April 20th, 2010

Credit the visiting Bulls for making the league's best team sweat through the fourth quarter before the Cavs completed their inevitable 112-102 win in Game 2 on Monday.

• Close is not enough. The Bulls were within 96-93 with 4:45 remaining, but then LeBron James outscored them 11-5 to send them back to Chicago down 0-2. His closing flurry included a three, a pair of free throws, a drive and two more jumpers. He finished with 40 points on 23 shots to go with his routine 8 assists, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks -- leading Cleveland in each of those categories on a night when the Bulls held everyone else to 14 points or fewer. An underdog like Chicago -- lacking a go-to scorer since the departure last summer of Ben Gordon -- needs to enter the final minutes with a lead of six to eight points in hope of staving off the expected finishing rally by James.

• Can Chicago improve for Game 3? It's hard to imagine what more the Bulls can do. They received 20 or more points from Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, they committed four turnovers overall against one of the league's better defenses and they equalled the larger Cavs on the glass. Maybe they can steal one game at home, but more than likely they'll find the Cavs focused on creating more turnovers and finishing this series quickly.

• Noah impresses. When he wasn't denouncing Kevin Garnett as a dirty player, the Bulls' 25-year-old center was establishing the mood for Game 2 by criticizing Cleveland's quiet downtown. Cavs fans booed him all night but he responded with 25 points on 18 shots (with a steady 5-of-5 performance from the foul line) and 13 rebounds over 41 hyperactive minutes. Noah's mobility limited Shaquille O'Neal to 15 minutes, and afterwards James lauded Cleveland coach Mike Brown for responding with a more agile rotation.

• Jamario Moon, the shooter. The 6-foot-8 Moon was acquired for his athleticism in the open floor, and this season he averaged one three-pointer for every two games -- making him less productive from beyond the arc than end-of-the-bench forward Jawad Williams. But in Game 2, Moon responded to the pressure of a tight game by taking five highly open shots and canning four of them -- all from the three-point line, including three in the final quarter to supplement James. This is an enormously deep and versatile team.

• Cleveland's secondary mission. Apart from finishing off Chicago by Game 4 on Sunday, the Cavs need to use this series to develop the frontcourt rapport around power forward Antawn Jamison (who didn't join Cleveland until February) and centers O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who missed much of the second half of the season). Jamison was a respectable 6-of-12 for his 14 points, but he also commited three turnovers in 30 minutes. Cleveland must use these early games to improve their frontcourt combinations and raise their level of play for May and June.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.