CLEVELAND – So there is a team actually more mentally fragile than Fred Hoiberg’s bunch.
It took a Saturday trip to Cleveland to find them.
One day after the Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt and moved Tyronn Lue into that chair, the expected buzzsaw awaiting the visiting team ended up being nothing more than a whimpering dog. And the Bulls took full advantage of it, beating Cleveland, 96-83, at the Quicken Loans Arena.
Not only was it the second win of the season over the Eastern Conference leaders, but more importantly it ended a two-game losing streak for Hoiberg’s team, quieting the growing criticism surrounding this group for, well, at least until Monday when they take the court against Miami.
“Again, the biggest thing is the basics,’’ Hoiberg said about his team’s inconsistencies.
A major problem that had been dooming the now 25-18 Bulls was the start. Slow, low energy, and no urgency on defense. That’s why Jimmy Butler had no problem calling out his team for it 24 hours earlier, insisting that despite the coaches preparing them correctly and the players practicing what is being asked, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do.’’
Hoiberg was asked about Butler’s comments on Saturday, and did his best to stay away from them.
“I don’t know about that,’’ Hoiberg said. “Obviously, we’re all in this together.’’
What Hoiberg did stress, however, was the mentality early on in games needed to change.
“That was a big message after the [Friday loss in Boston],’’ Hoiberg said. “You have to get off to the start. You can’t keep digging yourself out of the holes and keep expending so much energy.’’
The only team expending energy early on in Cleveland were the Cavaliers, as the Bulls jumped out to a 21-14 first quarter lead, and wouldn’t let up.
Even when Cleveland (30-12) cut the lead to just eight with 2:00 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Taj Gibson’s basket and harm all but iced it for the Bulls, putting them up 11.
Gibson was playing with an injured eye, had to wear goggles, and was struggling to see clearly, but still scored 15 points. He wasn’t alone in the grit department, either. Pau Gasol woke up after a two-game slumber, scoring 25 points, while Nikola Mirotic ended his struggles for a night, adding 17.
“At this time, man, we’re just trying to win games,’’ Derrick Rose said, when asked if there was any significance of now being up 2-0 on the Cavs in the season series. “We’re trying to find things out here, and improve every day.’’
But Rose and Co. definitely knew the significance of the win, or at least what was awaiting them coming into the showdown.
“If you add the emotional side, where they got a new coach and knew they were coming out and playing, being all hyped, so I love that we got the win,’’ Rose said. “You’re on alert, I’ll say that, coming out into this game.’’
Not that the Cavaliers didn’t help the Bulls avoid disaster. Not only did Cleveland welcome the Lue Era in with a 4-for-24 (16.7 percent) performance from beyond the three-point line, but went 9-for-22 from the free throw line.
“This was a big game,’’ Hoiberg said. “[Friday night] was a big game. We talked about that as well. Again, it’s a mindset with our guys. You take away Golden State, we’re 8-0 against two-through-six in the league, so we say this all the time, this is one you can build off of.’’