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Where in the world is Nikola Mirotic?

After dropping Game 1 to the Chicago Bulls on their home floor, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced essentially a must-win Game 2 on Wednesday night. Cavaliers head coach David Blatt adjusted his starting lineup by inserting Tristan Thompson into the starting group, and LeBron James adjusted his mindset by being more aggressive.

The results were tangible from the get-go. With James forcing the issue, Thompson bringing energy and Iman Shumpert once again knocking down outside shots, Cleveland jumped out to a big lead and never looked back. The Cavaliers led by 20 points after the first quarter, and the margin never got lower than 11 the rest of the game in a 106-91 victory.

While Cleveland did almost everything right, Chicago couldn’t seem to do anything right. After coming out guns blazin’ in Game 1, the Bulls fired up a bunch of bricks to start Game 2, and they couldn’t hang on to the ball either. Derrick Rose struggled around the basket, and Pau Gasol was neutralized after he torched the nets in Game 1 with mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper.

With Gasol struggling and Joakim Noah continuing to provide very little, it seemed like a good opportunity to give rookie Nikola Mirotic some run. Mirotic wasn’t all that good against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round while also dealing with some injuries, but the Rookie of the Year runner-up has sparked the Bulls on many occasions this season.

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

As a stretch 4, Mirotic brings an element to the Bulls’ offense that nobody else does, and he’s an improving defender and rebounder. Even if he’s struggling with his shot, the spacing he provides can open up the offense for other players. And when he’s knocking down shots or getting to the foul line, which is something he excels at, Chicago’s offense can hit another gear.

Not long ago, Mirotic was putting up nearly 21 points per game in March when Rose and Jimmy Butler were down with injuries. Not only was Niko putting up good overall numbers, but he consistently hit huge shots down the stretch.

Despite all of these factors, Mirotic barely saw the floor in Game 2, right after barely seeing the floor in Game 1. He has played a total of nine minutes this series, which seems crazy for the Rookie of the Year runner-up. It wasn’t as big a deal when the Bulls were rolling in Game 1, but with the team struggling mightily at various points during Game 2, it was shocking to see Tom Thibodeau stick with the struggling Gasol and Noah for so long. Taj Gibson provided a nice spark off the bench, but Mirotic never got the chance to provide that spark.

Will we see more of Mirotic in Game 3? That seems to be up in the air:

If the Bulls come out and play well on their home floor in Game 3, we very well might not see much Mirotic. But if there’s another slow start and Chicago needs a spark, there’s really no excuse to not give him a chance. As Thibs said, we’ll see how it unfolds.



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