If Saturday's showdown against the Chicago Bulls was any indication, it's going to take more than one game for Tyronn Lue to correct the Cleveland Cavaliers' problems.
One day after Lue replaced David Blatt as the team's head coach, the Bulls shut down the Cavaliers 96-83 at Quicken Loans Arena in a game that amounted to an offensive struggle.
The Bulls offense wasn't prolific by any means, but a stellar defensive display and Pau Gasol's steady scoring capabilities sent the Cavs tumbling to another head-scratching loss at home, as Yahoo Sports' Michael Lee explained:
Michael Lee @MrMichaelLee
Twice this week - at home, no less - you expected #cavs to come with some fight & play with purpose. Both times, guys were in chill mode1/24/2016, 4:02:33 AM
Gasol finished with 25 points (11-of-16 shooting), 10 rebounds and six assists, while Jimmy Butler added 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
The Cavaliers didn't have a single player who experienced a similar degree of success with the ball in his hands.
LeBron James (26 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists) fell one dime shy of a triple-double, but his stroke was uninspiring on a night when Cleveland shot 37.2 percent from the field, 4-of-24 from three and 9-of-22 from the free-throw line.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann put LeBron's poor performance in perspective:
John Schuhmann @johnschuhmann
Tonight was the 5th time in his career (1st since 1/19/2010) that LeBron took at least 8 shots outside the paint & didn't make any of them.1/24/2016, 3:58:26 AM
In fact, Kevin Love (14 points on 6-of-12 shooting) was the only Cavaliers player to shoot 50 percent or better from the field, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Taj Gibson proved to be a pivotal defensive presence who disrupted Cleveland's looks at the rim all night long. Though Gibson's final line wasn't jaw-dropping (15 points, eight rebounds, two blocks), ESPN.com's Zach Lowe noted the big man's found ways to contribute that aren't always evident in the box score:
Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA
Taj has been really solid all season. Does so many little things that help you win.1/24/2016, 3:51:34 AM
Nikola Mirotic was huge off the bench and totaled 17 points (5-of-9 shooting, 3-of-5 from three) after mustering 17 points combined over his last four games.
Although the Cavaliers figured to come out fired up and ready to make a statement with Lue in charge, they looked lethargic in the first half.
Despite Love's getting free for some clean looks on the perimeter, a rhythm eluded Cleveland in the early going. The Cavaliers opened the game by shooting 6-of-28 from the field in the first quarter, including 15 straight misses over the final seven minutes of the opening frame.
Cleveland's 14 first-quarter points represented its second-lowest total of the season, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and things only improved marginally as the half drew to a close.
A 25-23 advantage in the second quarter allowed the Cavaliers to enter the halftime locker room down a manageable five points, but they scored just 39 points over the game's first 24 minutes.
The Bulls didn't fare much better—knocking down 38 percent of their first-half shots—but Butler's jumper was steady and Rose knifed to the cup with ease.
And even though Derrick Rose (12 points, 5-of-21 shooting) left handfuls of points on the floor after blowing several easy layups, that he was able to consistently beat Cleveland's defenders off the bounce was refreshing, as CSN Chicago's Vincent Goodwill observed:
Vincent Goodwill @vgoodwill
Rose blew by LeBron so quick, Bron might have to take a two week vacation in Miami1/24/2016, 3:01:54 AM
Gasol's contributions were also huge. The Spaniard kept Timofey Mozgov guessing in the pick-and-roll all night, and he proceeded to shred Cleveland's defense with long-range jumpers, low-block finishes and some nifty high-low passing.
Between poor free-throw shooting, LeBron's shaky jump shot and Chicago's stifling defense, the Cavaliers didn't stand much of a chance once they fell behind by double digits. In fact, the Bulls held Cleveland to 58 points through three quarters—their lowest total entering the final frame this season, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Cleveland fans start to boo the Cavs in Tyronn Lue's first game as head coach. https://t.co/Alad8qxdtK1/24/2016, 4:57:18 AM
The Bulls needed a performance like Saturday's to get back on track. Chicago entered the Eastern Conference clash having lost two straight and six of its last eight overall, and the fact that Fred Hoiberg's squad was able to control pace and impose its will on defense made for a confidence-building effort.
The Bulls will have a chance to keep things rolling Monday against the Miami Heat before they embark on a seven-game road trip.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has myriad questions to answer. Back-to-back wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers served as a nice response to the team's blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors last Monday, but Blatt's firing and Saturday's showing could serve as major steps back.
If there's good news for the Cavs, it's that they have consecutive games coming up against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Detroit Pistons. But if they can't piece things together against that mundane group, panic could set in when the San Antonio Spurs come to town Jan. 30.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, Lue didn't pull any punches when assessing his team's conditioning levels:
Jason Lloyd @JasonLloydABJ
Ty Lue said guys aren't in shape, got tired early and couldn't play up-tempo style he wanted to play. Said could take couple weeks to fix.1/24/2016, 4:25:03 AM
Lue also pulled back the curtain on his postgame strategy, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
Dave McMenamin @mcten
Ty Lue says he did not address the team after the game. Said he learned from Scott Skiles, after an emotional loss, wait until film session1/24/2016, 4:19:33 AM
Cleveland.com's Chris Haynes shed some light on the team's pregame adjustments:
Chris Haynes @ChrisBHaynes
Tyronn Lue instructed team at home to go through starting lineup introductions. Says it gets fans into it. They don't have to do it on road.1/24/2016, 4:18:37 AM
"I've been booed before," Lue said after fans let the Cavs hear it following the final horn, per the Associated Press' Tom Withers. "It's not a big deal."
When discussing Blatt's dismissal, Cavs forward Tristan Thompson didn't offer much insight, according to Haynes: "It is what it is...It's a part of the business."
As for Chicago, Rose appeared pleased with how his team bounced back, per the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson: "I loved the way we communicated," he said.
On a statistical note, Saturday marked the first time in nearly six years Gasol led his team in points, rebounds and assists, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Cavaliers' issues were compounded by the fact that they shot 40.9 percent from the charity stripe—the team's worst mark since the 1995-96 season, according to NBA on ESPN's Twitter account.
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