Bulls' Dunleavy the 'X-factor' Cavs must check
CLEVELAND -- If the Cavaliers want to win their Eastern Conference semifinals vs. the Chicago Bulls, they will likely need to be more aware of Mike Dunleavy.
The Cavs finally shut down Dunleavy after the first quarter of Game 1 and gave themselves a chance. Before that, Dunleavy scored 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, as the Bulls built a 27-15 lead.
Dunleavy attempted just one shot the rest of the way and the Bulls had to hold on for dear life in a 99-92 win.
Granted, Dunleavy isn't Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol or Jimmy Butler. Nor is he talked about as much as Bulls center Joakim Noah. But Dunleavy is a 6-foot-9 veteran who can bury you from the perimeter — while you place all your focus on the other guys.
Prior to the series, one NBA scout told FOX Sports Ohio that Dunleavy is "the X-factor." That's especially the case early in games, when the Bulls try to get him going and open the floor for everyone else. In Game 1, the Bulls did just that.
"Dunleavy, he's been hot," Noah said. "We've just got to search him out as much as possible; the more they hedge out on him it's going to give other guys opportunities."
Of course, the Cavs have an X-factor of their own in LeBron James. In Game 1, he defended everyone from Noah to Butler to Rose to Gasol, and yes, to Dunleavy. As James indicated, if there's a Bull who checks into the game, there's a good chance James will have to guard him.
But as a team, the Cavs must have a much firmer grasp of how badly Dunleavy can hurt them. He scored 11 of his first 14 points in the first six minutes, making the Cavs appear dazed and confused and already trailing by too much to overcome.
Dunleavy did something similar in the Bulls' closing first-round game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. That time, he scored 20 points and annoyed the Bucks' young guys with physical (and borderline illegal) play on defense.
But what really sets Dunleavy, 34, apart is the fact he's a constant threat on a team full of them. The difference is that Dunleavy is the one guy everyone tends to forget — which is what killed the Cavs early.
"He never stops moving," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "He spaces the floor and he's very unselfish if he's guarded. It's those things that don't show up in a box score that make him so valuable."
And it's those things the Cavs didn't become aware of until it was way too late.
Now they are well aware of Dunleavy's presence. And if they can contain him, Rose, Gasol and the others may not be such a huge problem.
Yes, the Bulls will still be a tough out — especially since the Cavs are missing Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and J.R. Smith (two-game suspension), who will likely defend Dunleavy when he returns.
No one really thinks of Dunleavy as the reason the Cavs will lose this series, and this isn't meant to paint him as an all-world type of guy who can beat you on his own.
But you'd better know he exists. You'd better know he can hurt you. It is, after all, the "little things" like a Dunleavy that can make all the difference in Game 2.
"I think there were a lot of things we could've done a little better," said Cavs coach David Blatt. "We were just a little bit off in a lot of things, a lot of little things that were important."
One of those things, without a doubt, was Mike Dunleavy.