NBA Playoff Recap - East First Round - Game 5
(1) Cleveland 96, (8) Chicago 94 - Cavs win series, 4-1
It might feel odd to say this about a clinching game in a first-round series involving a 61-win team and a .500 team, but the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a very significant win on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Let that statement roll around your mind for a little bit. It just doesn't feel right or seem very sane. Yet, the developments which graced the second half of this contest (not to mention its postgame press conference) cast this collision between the Cavs and the Chicago Bulls in a distinctly different light.
Yes, it might be concerning for Cleveland that the best team over the course of the NBA's regular season could not shake the 41-41 Bulls over the course of 48 minutes. However, a national television audience got to see why this was the case in the final minute of regulation. With Cleveland up 96-92 and just 7.8 seconds remaining in regulation time, LeBron James suddenly reached into the wayback machine and discovered his inner Bo Kimble. LeBron shot a free throw left-handed, much as Kimble did during Loyola Marymount's spellbinding run to the Elite Eight in the 1990 NCAA Tournament.
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The only difference, of course, was that King James was not remembering another player. The super-duper star was nursing and managing the pain in his right elbow at the end of a difficult night. James scored only 19 points in this game and was not his dominant self on Tuesday. That's basically why Chicago - gallant and gritty throughout this series - never faded away and forced Cleveland to fight to the very last second to hold on for the win.
It was learned after the game, in a much-discussed presser, that LeBron had an MRI and two X-rays performed on the elbow on Sunday after Game 4 of the series. It was disconcerting to for King James to realize that he couldn't pinpoint the exact moment when the injury occurred, but in the same breath, the Cavs' iconic athlete insisted that he'd be fine for the upcoming Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Celtics. James added, in a very therapeutic manner, that Cleveland fans - so often burned and emotionally ambushed in professional sports postseasons - had nothing to worry about.
The Cavs can only hope that's the case. They must have a fully healthy LeBron in order to move forward.
Chicago - thanks to 31 points from guard Derrick Rose - never fully went away in this game. Cleveland owned a late 93-84 lead, but the Bulls ran off eight straight points to trim their deficit to 93-92 with a little over a minute left. LeBron made two foul shots to give the Cavs a three-point lead at the 1:10 mark, and thanks to stingy halfcourt defense, coach Mike Brown's ballclub was able to send the Bulls packing. The loss definitely ended Chicago's season, and it might very well bring an end to the tenure of coach Vinny Del Negro, whose late-season confrontation with General Manager John Paxson could result in a pink slip before very long. The Bulls - given their long list of injuries - did well just to make the playoffs, and after pushing Cleveland hard in four of this series's five games, Del Negro's players have nothing to be ashamed of. If Chicago makes a splash in the free agent market, this franchise could be ready to compete for championships once again.
Speaking of competing for championships, that's what Cleveland needs to do when the Boston Celtics come to town this Saturday.
A healthy LeBron James will need to be on the floor if the Cavs are to keep their title drive alive.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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