Within the last 24 hours, Cleveland fired their head coach, management blamed it on the tone of the locker room and regression on the floor, the star player denied culpability in the affair and the new coach said the players are out of shape.
Just imagine how dire the situation would be if the Cavs were not leading the Eastern Conference.
Center Pau Gasol had 23 points and 10 rebounds and the Chicago Bulls beat the Cavaliers 96-83 on Saturday in the debut of new coach Tyronn Lue.
“It was a tough day for our players, coaching staff and our organization,” LeBron James said. “And it’s a tough game to come in and play. But I think if we play as hard as we did tonight, then we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
General manager David Griffin made the surprising decision to fire David Blatt on Friday despite owning the top record in the East. Griffin did not like the tone of the locker room and did not see improvement despite the team piling up victories.
Lue added to that by acknowledging before Saturday’s game he did not believe players were enjoying themselves this season.
Then they shot 37 percent from the field, did not get any scoring from their bench until late in the third quarter and were just nien of 22 from the free-throw line as they were booed off the floor after the loss.
“I’ve been booed before, along with a lot of these guys,” Lue said. “That’s not a big deal. It’s something I’ve got to deal with.”
James scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and fell one assist shy of his first triple-double this season. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists but were 11 of 27 from the field.
Kevin Love scored 14 points and Kyrie Irving had 11. But the Cavs went scoreless for the final 6:57 of the first quarter and missed their final 16 shots of the first. The offense never really recovered.
Lue thought a large part of the reason was because the players are out of shape — a fairly surprising announcement for the halfway point of the season. The Cavs ranked 29th in the league in pace entering the night and Lue wants to play faster. The result, he said, were all three stars asking out of the game early.
“I don’t think we’re in good enough shape. I think early, we wanted to push it, we wanted to open the floor and I think we came out and did that and then I think we just dropped off the map,” Lue said.
“I think we got tired. LeBron came out early, Ky wanted to come out early, Kevin wanted to come out early. I just don’t think we’re in good enough shape right now to play in the style that we want to play.”
Guard Jimmy Butler had 20 points and nine rebounds, forward Taj Gibson had 15 points and eight rebounds and forward Nikola Mirotic scored 17 off the bench for the Bulls. It was just Chicago’s third win in its last nine games.
“We talked a lot about Cleveland coming out and playing with a lot of energy early and we had to match it,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought we did that. We came out with good intensity and hung in there when they got the lead early.”
The loss capped a turbulent 24 hours in Cleveland. James insisted he had no role in Blatt’s firing while agreeing with everything Griffin said Friday night in explaining the move.
Lue said he did not want to do anything different than how Blatt managed the team — just better. He also wanted to expand the rotation and get more guys involved.
He kept his word. Lue went 10 deep in the first quarter, but it seemed to stall any rhythm the offense could generate. The Cavs shot 17 percent from three-point range (four of 24) and never found a groove.
Once guys started asking out of the game because they were tired, Lue conceded it threw off his rotation and he never recovered. James, incidentally, agreed with Lue’s assessment that the players are not in shape.
“We all need to be in better shape,” he said. “There will be some adjustment period, but I don’t think it will be that long. I think we have something in place, but I think Coach Lue is definitely going to put his imprint on what he wants the team to do and we’ll be ready for it.”
Two free throws from Butler extended the Bulls’ lead to 77-60 early in the fourth quarter, their largest of the night. When the Cavs made a small run to cut the deficit to 10, Gasol countered with consecutive jumpers to keep the Bulls comfortably ahead.
“It was a good win,” Butler said. “It’s one we can build off. We were aggressive on both ends of the floor. We have to come out and bring it every night.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)