Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Having seen coach Mike Brown cobble together lineup the last four or five games without using his best players, some fans wondered whether his Cavaliers might have to dust off some rust for Game 1 of their NBA playoff series.
But if rustiness was what the Bulls were counting Saturday afternoon for the edge inside The Q, they misjudged their circumstances.
There wasn't even a trace of rust on LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal & Co. in their 96-83 victory.
James, Shaq and the Cavaliers looked as fresh as if they were playing in their 13th game of the season, not in game No. 83. They scored 56 points in the first half, and they ran the court with the kind of coltish energy not seen this late into a season.
"We felt, going into the half, that we could've had a little bit bigger lead," said Brown, sounding greedy.
Yes, his Cavaliers should have had a bigger lead -- much bigger than 15 points. They moved the ball effortlessly, spaced the floor well and got great looks at the basket. But those great looks didn't always lead to points.
"We missed a lot of easier jumpers," James said.
Had some of those shots fallen, he and the Cavs could have closed the half with total of 65 or more points on the scoreboard.
In a playoff game, 65 points are an embarrassment of riches in one half, so are 56 points. Possessions in the playoffs are more contested; pressure on the offensive end forces the defense into mistakes. Offense demands efficiency and energy, and the Cavaliers showed both.
Rested from having clinched the No. 1 seed more than a week ago, they were running on the energy that hydroelectric plant produces.
This level of spirited play inside The Q isn't uncommon. The Cavaliers have played with high energy throughout their run to the best overall record in the NBA. Their high energy has turned the arena into a home-court advantage that is a killer for an opposing team.
And when that energy takes on the intensity of a nuclear-power plant, as it did here in the first half, it turned the "House that LeBron filled" into a temple of doom. The Bulls had little chance of leaving the floor with a victory.
"It never feels good to lose," center Joakim Noah said.
Not that Noah and his teammates, frustration in their voices, didn't make a charge in the third and fourth quarters; they did. But the Bulls never wiped out their halftime deficit; they never could short-circuit the energy coming from the Cavaliers.
And their energy kept flowing like the Nile, even as they got a tad too careless with the basketball, for Brown's taste, for a short while.
"We played pretty good basketball," Brown said, "except for the one lull in the third."
He didn't sound overly worried about that lull, however. Nor did Brown put too much stock in winning one game, because the road to an NBA title has 16 victories paving the way.
So one win is nothing, although the Cavs couldn't get to 16 without first getting win No. 1 out of the way. They did, too.
"I knew the guys were ready to play," James said.
Brown concurred, of course. He saw more that he liked about this opening performance than he disliked. It wasn't a signature performance from start to finish, but it got Shaq serious floor time and offered a glimpse of how Brown planned to use his deep roster.
Those are things people were looking to see when this series opened. They were also looking to see what rust was on the Cavs.
Maybe they didn't answer every question in this 13-point win, but they did answer one of them. They answered it essentially with a question of their own: Rust ... what rust?