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Westerlund: 5 Thoughts On Bulls-Cavs Game 5

By Cody Westerlund--

(CBS) In a heated Game 5, the Cavaliers prevailed 106-101 over the Bulls on Tuesday night in Cleveland to grab a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Here are a few observations from a Game 5 that will result in Chicago fighting for its playoff lives when it hosts Game 6 on Thursday.

1. This is what LeBron James does and why having the best basketball player on the planet matters more than anything in a given series:

38 points
14-of-24 from the field
12 rebounds
6 assists
3 blocks
3 steals
0 turnovers

In his team's biggest game of the season, James was magnificent in every facet. With 16 second-quarter points, he spurred the charge that gave the Cavs control, then made the needed plays down the stretch, including the biggest one of the night.

After grabbing a rebound with the Bulls trailing 101-99 with just under a minute left, Derrick Rose sped down the floor in transition with only Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova between him and the hoop.

It appeared to be a terrific opportunity for the Bulls to tie it up, but James hustled back, then had exquisite timing in blocking a short runner by Rose.

It went out of bounds, but Cleveland followed with the needed defensive stop.

"You can't pick a thing he didn't do at the highest level," Cleveland coach David Blatt said of James in the postgame news conference.

James performed like the best basketball player on the planet. If he hadn't, the Bulls probably would've won.

2. The look the Bulls got on the ensuing inbound following James' block of Rose was a good one – Jimmy Butler wide open in the right corner for a go-ahead 3-pointer after Joakim Noah freed him with a solid pick on James.

The problem was Butler faded to his right as he went up, and his shot barely drew front iron. He'd been terrific all night, as he scored 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a play that represents the fine line between being a star and a superstar.

Butler wants to take shots like those, but never had one come on a stage quite like this. He just needed to stay in rhythm, trust his shooting mechanics and not rush.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau liked the look Butler got on the play, even if he grumpily expressed his answer.

"Was it wide open?" Thibodeau asked a reporter. "Then that's what we were looking for."

3. With 10:25 left in the fourth quarter, Bulls forward Taj Gibson was called for a flagrant 2 foul and ejected after an altercation with Dellavedova. The two had fallen to the ground fighting for position, and as Gibson got up, Dellavedova used his two feet to lock Gibson's left leg/ankle.

With a history of ankle injuries, Gibson didn't react well to this Dellavedova act. Gibson responded by "pulling his leg back," as he put it to Comcast SportsNet's Chuck Garfien, though it certainly came off as a kick to most people.

Whatever it you want to call it, Chicago was wronged in Gibson getting ejected and Dellavedova receiving no penalty. Even though Gibson lost his head, the instigator needs to be punished as well.

I also write this at the risk of empowering all the idiots who attribute Bulls losses to the officials, but here goes: Chicago really could've used Gibson on the floor for its last true defensive sequence.

After Butler's missed 3-pointer, the Bulls forced James to miss on a fadeaway jumper, but offensive rebounding extraordinaire Tristan Thompson kept the ball alive, and Noah couldn't corral it. Kirk Hinrich then also couldn't corral it. Cleveland's Iman Shumpert did, and Kyrie Irving followed with two free throws to make it a two-possession game.

Who knows whom Thibodeau would've had on the floor with the Cavs going small – he does have an unwavering trust in Noah, and there was no dead ball to sub after Butler's miss – but it's possible Gibson could've been out there for Noah, Hinrich or Mike Dunleavy, who failed to box out Shumpert.

That might have mattered, and in a series that has seen the officials allow plenty of physical play, you wish they'd have gone easier on Gibson.

"I'm not sure," Thibodeau said of Gibson's ejection, clearly not happy. "Bizarre."

4. Noah was again active for Chicago, and the box score will show he scored 10 points on an efficient 4-of-6 from the field.

Yet this remains a problem: The ball is ending up in his hands way too often. Depleted by Pau Gasol sitting out with a strained left hamstring for the second straight game, Gibson being ejected and Nikola Mirotic shooting 2-for-7, the Bulls had to turn to Noah in the middle.

What they didn't have to do was play through him as much as they did. When Noah got the ball, the Cavs often pressured him, disrupting the Bulls' offense and forcing tough looks. He simply doesn't have the touch at the rim to drive and make a foe pay right now.

In the other head-scratching development, the Bulls have a knack for inbounding the ball to Noah late in the shot clock, seemingly not realizing why he's left open 18 feet from the hoop. It's cost them time and again, as they have seven shot-clock violations in the past two games and a whopping 18 in the playoffs, according to Bulls stats guru Jeff Mangurten.

With 101 games under their belts counting the preseason, none of this should be happening. It's mind-boggling.

5. Historically in the NBA, teams leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven format have gone on to win the series 85 percent of the time, according to More specifically, teams up 3-2 that have Game 7 at home have gone on to win the series 91 percent of the time. So it's understandable that Bulls fans would have a sense of doom after Tuesday.

Yet it's also worth noting: This Bulls-Cavs showdown is what an epic could-go-either-way seven-game series feels like. The last three games have gone down to the wire. Games are being decided both on huge, headline-grabbing shots and subtle efforts that go unnoticed, such as Thompson working hard to keep the ball alive in crunch time.

Counting the preseason, Chicago and Cleveland have played each other 10 times in 2014-'15. They know one another's tendencies. There are no surprises. Both are desperate, hard-nosed teams. Both are depleted, with seemingly half the players on the floor hampered by some sort of ailment.

This all points to Game 6 – and perhaps a Game 7 – being just as tightly as contested as the past three. At this point, the difference is miniscule.

The teams are nearly evenly matched, James tilting the favor Cleveland's way just a bit when he's at his best, but make one more play, get one more break, and Chicago will be the one to advance.

Just remember that there's more drama to come.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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