Cavs got what they needed vs. Bulls

CHICAGO -- After peeling off an electric stim pack from his back and pulling his feet out of a bucket of ice, LeBron James let out a small groan and announced his plans for Saturday evening had officially been altered.

"Man, I was thinking of going to a college football game," James said. "No, no, that college football is going to be watching me -- right on my couch."

The first two nights of the season were draining for James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. After a preseason with rhetoric about reducing his minutes, he played 40-plus in each of the first two games and was feeling it. Friday's 42 minutes were because the Cavs went to overtime before finishing off the Chicago Bulls -- a team that is already disappointingly dealing with injury issues -- by a 114-108 score.

After the game, the Cavs presented coach David Blatt the game ball for his first NBA win and then mobbed him in the center of the locker room, each player getting a chance to muss his hair like a baseball team celebrating a walk-off.

"Not all of you know me very well, but I've probably won about 700 games in my career. Just none of them have been here," Blatt said. "So it was a little bit odd on one hand, but that's the first NBA win."

James wanted to go to a football game and Blatt didn't want to be treated like a rookie coach. What they wanted and what they needed, though, naturally were different.

It's super early in the season and eventually what happened in the first week will be minimalized. However, the Cavs wanted no part of sitting around for three days with an 0-2 record before they start a Western trip in Portland on Tuesday night.

Overall, the first real game between the Eastern Conference's top teams was intensely contested as the need for overtime suggested. In a continuation from their high-quality preseason game last week in Columbus, these two teams certainly seem to be quite the match for each other and could end up being a season-long source of drama.

However, it was hard for the Cavs to claim a statement win because Derrick Rose missed most of the second half with an ankle injury and Jimmy Butler was out with a thumb injury. Rose actually tweaked both his ankles, though the left was more significant and when he came up limping in the third quarter there was an audible gasp from the crowd.

"It's not that serious," said Rose, who wasn't immediately planning to have an MRI. "I'm walking around so I guess it's [not broken]."

Taj Gibson also played through a rolled ankle and the Bulls' rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic both predictably played rather tight, giving the team nothing. Coach Tom Thibodeau was incensed at the officials and believed two vital calls went against the Bulls late, a questionable continuation basket for Kyrie Irving and a moving screen on Joakim Noah that cost Chicago a vital possession.

Pile all that together and the Bulls could easily explain away this loss. Especially since the Cavs have yet to demonstrate they have any sort of answer for guarding Rose. After he trounced them for 30 points in 24 minutes in the practice game, he had 20 points in 25 minutes on Friday. The Bulls lost both but had he gotten 10 more minutes in either, maybe they both go the other way.

Yet it still counts for the Cavs and that does have meaning, even in October. They were so poor in their opening loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday that their confidence from what had been a successful preseason was a little shaken.

James was so miffed at his eight turnovers that night that he said that stat would be his lasting memory from his comeback game. That can't possibly be true but his point was taken. He scored 36 points in his second game back, which is much closer to the action the Cavs fans have been getting all worked up about. Though he needed 30 shots to get there, not the sort of efficiency James is used to. Again not what he wanted, but what he needed.

"I take pride in the way I perform and I'm [my] biggest critic," James said. "I needed to redeem myself."

Blatt, too, didn't feel too good about that opener. He seemed to forget his bench, playing James 43 minutes while Shawn Marion and Mike Miller combined for 13. At times he was frozen on the sidelines and his late-game management wasn't exactly on point. It seems he too was caught up in the emotion of the first game. Irving said he needed to get on the same page as his coach and Marion lightly complained about playing time, not exactly the sort of start Blatt envisioned.

He ended up having what he said was an energetic morning meeting with his team Friday, urging them to refocus. And his late-game maneuvers and use of his bench worked better, though that friendly three-point play from Irving, who had 23 points, certainly helped save the day.

It was not a perfect game, but for the Cavs to respond to Blatt and then have an impromptu little celebration for him was indeed in that need category. He's going to have plenty of pressure moments this season when his choices are put under a microscope, and he sure didn't need it after the second game.

"Our team has a target on its chest," Blatt said. "We have to bring it every night because of that."

Of course, he knows he's very much a part of that metaphor especially since he doesn't have a history in the league that he can lean on. That added some value to a victory that could end up having some meaning later in the season if the Bulls and Cavs are tussling for playoff positioning as many expect.

There's a lot going with these two teams and it will be interesting to take stock when they see each other again, which isn't until Jan. 19. The Cavs have their bucket of challenges in getting used to each other and their coach. The Bulls seem like they're going to have continuous health questions; if it isn't Rose it may be Noah, who played reasonably Friday with 13 rebounds but his surgically-repaired left knee is a source of concern for the team.

"We have an opportunity to be very good," James said. "This was an example of how good we can be, but we still have a lot of work to do."