Move over Jordan and Pippen, the greatest duo in Bulls history is Jimmy Butler and Rizzoli from Rizzoli & Isles. A few weeks ago we told you about the #TNTBulls, and on Thursday night their legend grew even further. Chicago has now won 20 straight regular-season home games on TNT stemming back to 2013. Thursday night’s 99–93 win over the Cavaliers was their fourth win over LeBron James in that run, with two wins over the Spurs and a win over the Warriors mixed in. Tell me all you want about the ’96 Bulls, but that team lost sometimes. Jordan is the greatest player of all time, but all of his intangibles are nothing compared with the boost of appearing on basic cable.
The #TNTBulls can’t win the NBA championship — they’re still a game out of the playoffs, and more importantly, the Finals are on ABC. But the Cavs do hope to repeat, and Thursday night’s loss was a troubling one. It was their third in a row and fifth in seven games. They’re now a half-game behind the Celtics in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s tough to suss out how meaningful this spell is. The Cavs know the most important thing at this point of the year is getting to Game no. 83 with LeBron rested, healthy, and happy. Fighting for the 1-seed is meaningful, but LeBron’s teams have failed to earn the top seed four times in the past six years, and he’s made the Finals each time.
In the second half against the Bulls, the Cavs seemed disinterested on both ends of the floor, allowing 37 points in the third quarter and passively hoisting 12 3s in the fourth, missing nine. Yes, you’re supposed to shoot a lot of 3s when you’re trailing, but it often seemed like they weren’t really trying to get anything better. After scoring 19 points in the first half, LeBron finished with just 26. He was outshined by Nikola Mirotic, who went for 28 points, including six 3s.
But there were some key aspects of this game that had nothing to do with the point in the season. This game sealed the Bulls’ season sweep of the Cavs. Chicago has had wildly different rosters in all four games: Taj Gibson, now on the Thunder, had 23 and 11 in the first while Mirotic shot 1-for-9; Doug McDermott, also now on the Thunder, had 17 in the second; and Dwyane Wade didn’t play Thursday night. Specific mismatches aren’t the problem.
The time of year doesn’t explain Kevin Love’s night — he fouled out with eight points on 10 shots (although maybe he’s rusty after injury) — or why Kyrie Irving couldn’t finish — he connected on just three of 13 2-point attempts. And you’d think the impending playoffs would compel Tyronn Lue to better integrate Deron Williams, who seemed aimless while finishing with zero points and one assist in 17 minutes.
We know the incredible heights Cleveland can reach. But we also know that this year’s Cavs team is capable of losing to a sub-.500 team suffering an identity crisis. It might not even matter what TV channel they’re on.