Last night’s loss in Portland was the Bulls’ second in a row — something that has been nearly unheard of under coach Tom Thibodeau — and it dropped the team to a very humble 5-5 on the year.
There are disturbing signs. And it’s not just because Derrick Rose is still out.
The Incredible Shrinking D:
Chicago’s biggest problem right now is on defense.
I know it’s hard to believe. After all, the Bulls have been one of the league’s best defensive units the past two seasons.
They aren’t right now. Not even close.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls rank ninth in Defensive Rating at 102.0 points surrendered per 100 possessions. They’ve given up better than 100 points in four straight games…and check out the Offensive Ratings their last four foes have compiled against them:
Boston Celtics: 113.1
Phoenix Suns: 108.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 115.9
Portland Trail Blazers: 110.2
For some perspective on these numbers, here are what these teams average in Offensive Rating for the season:
Boston Celtics: 105.0
Phoenix Suns: 103.4
Los Angeles Clippers: 109.4
Portland Trail Blazers: 106.3
For further perspective, the New York Knicks currently lead the league in Offensive Rating at 111.5. So not only did Chicago’s last four opponents score significantly better than their average rates, but two of them performed better than the league’s best and another came damn close.
This is troubling.
The Bulls can’t seem to take care of the ball. Especially with Rose out, the Bulls rely on crisp execution and deft passing. Those things aren’t happening right now. After last night’s 19-turnover effort — which translated into 26 points for the Blazers — the Bulls rank 20th in TOs (155) and 18th in Turnover Percentage (14.5).
The Bulls finished with more rebounds (35) than the Blazers (34). But based on the percentages, they lost the rebounding battle.
Portland’s Offensive Rebounding Percentage was really troublesome. They rebounded one out of every four missed shots.
Speaking of Offensive Rebounding Percentage: The Bulls rank 11th in the league right now. Last season they ranked first. They ranked fourth the season before that. They aren’t getting as many second chances this year. And they’re giving up more second chances to their opponents: The Bulls rank 13th in Defensive Rebounding after ranking in the top 10 the past two seasons.
The bottom line is this: The Bulls are becoming an average rebounding team.
Diagnosing the problem:
The Bulls miss the Bench Mob.
Oh, sure, the reserves scored 39 points last night. But in the past, the bench came in, controlled the boards, and absolutely locked people down. That’s just not happening right now.
Defensively, the Bulls miss Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, and even C.J. Watson.
And my God, we need the real Taj Gibson back.
Despite signing a lucrative extension last month, Gibson is still playing like he’s distracted. His numbers have taken a nasty downturn since last season. He’s shooting a career-low 41 percent. He’s averaging only 4.3 rebounds. His Player Efficiency Rating (13.6) hasn’t just dropped since last year (16.9), it’s currently a career-worst.
Similarly, his Offensive and Defensive Rebounding Percentages (8.7 and 12.3) are career-lows and well beneath his career marks (11.4 and 18.5). Taj is blocking more shots — from 1.3 in each of the last three seasons to 1.9 this year — but he’s regressed significantly in virtually every other area.
Considering he was supposed to take on a larger role and anchor the new bench, this has been a real blow to the Bulls’ success.
Minus Rose, the Bulls are suffering on offense. But they’re also suffering on offense because they can’t take care of the ball or grab offensive rebounds at their accustomed rate. They’re also suffering on defense because they can’t control their defensive glass or shut down their opponents.
The offense should improve when Rose returns (whenever that is). But to solve the other problems, the Bulls are going to have to heal from within.
The Bulls got dominated last night. There isn’t really any other way to put it. Los Angeles shot 49.3 percent from the field while the Bulls shot 33.7 percent. The Clippers had 26 fast break points to the Bulls 10. We are all too old to go through everything the Bulls got beaten in. Pick a stat and it probably doesn’t favor the Bulls.
Joakim Noah was made to look nonexistent by DeAndre Jordan. Jo was 0-6 from the field with four points in his 30 minutes. Jordan had seven blocks and two steals.
And most importantly, and unfortunately for Chicago fans, the Bulls got outworked. Blake Griffin and the Clippers were diving for loose balls, beating Chicago at its own game.
They allowed the Clippers to score 101 points, which means the Bulls have allowed 100 points in their last three games.
The Bulls find themselves in an odd position right now. Their offense is clearly in trouble without Derrick Rose. They also lost Kyle Korver in the offseason which hurt. But it’s not just their offense that has taken a dip.
The defense that the Bulls have played the last three games has not been good. Teams have racked up offensive ratings of 113.1 (Celtics), 108.7 (Suns) and 109.8 (Clippers). The last time the Bulls allowed 100 points in at least three straight games was in 2010, when they let opponents score triple digits for four consecutive games.
But Chicago is still 5-4, and they lost to a very good Clippers team. They just need to buckle down defensively to get back to winning.
The Trail Blazers are off to a 5-4 start thanks in part to Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard. He is averaging 19.3 points and 6.4 assists per game.
Portland is 4-5, but is currently on a two-game winning streak after dropping four straight.
The Bulls don’t normally lose two games in a row. But they also don’t normally have three straight poor performances on defense. If the Bulls are going to start reeling off wins, their defense has to get closer to what it was the last two seasons. Chicago’s offense isn’t good enough to consistently score around 105 points per game. They need to get back to Tom Thobideau basketball, holding teams to low scoring and out-hustling opponents.
But the Bulls’ offense might get a boost against Portland. The Blazers are 28th in defensive rating (108.5). They have allowed more than 103 points in six of their nine games so far this season. The Bulls have scored 100 just twice this season. Some offensive confidence could go a long way.
A positive from last night’s Clippers debacle: The Bulls grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. You’re probably thinking “but that’s because they missed so many shots.” And you’d be partly correct, but those 20 O-boards gave them a 40.4 offensive rebound rate, an extremely high number. It’s not pretty that they grabbed so many offensive rebounds and still lost by 20, but it’s positive that they hit the glass hard, which is something that helped them win games last season.
Chicago let an 18-point lead slip away against the Suns. They let Phoenix score 31 in the 4th quarter to send the game into overtime. Ultimately the Bulls righted the ship in the extra period, and came out of it winners, but it wasn’t pretty. They almost blew a game in which they had a huge lead, but they started the circus road trip with a win. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it only gets tougher tonight in Los Angeles, who has won four straight.
The Clippers are 5th in offensive rating (108.9) and 9th in defensive rating (100.5). They have beaten the Heat (handily), Hawks, Spurs (by 22) and Grizzlies already this season. They have, however, lost to the Warriors and Cavs. So that’s a thinker.
Los Angeles is also 2nd in effective field goal percentage (.541) and 5th in free throws per field goal attempt (.253). By almost all offensive metrics, the Clippers are very good. And that’s why they’ve been winning so many games, against very good opponents.
They have the early season favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford, who has been playing out of his mind. He’s averaging 20.5 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting from the field and 42.2 from beyond the arc. That equates to a 66.6 true shooting percentage. Crawford is averaging 1.1 assists as well! OK that stat is terrible, but Chris Paul’s job is to pass. Crawford has a 119 offensive rating, only to be outdone by CP3’s 131 O-rating.
The Clippers are 28th in turnover percentage this year though. Chicago forced Phoenix to turn it over 15 times. Phoenix is the 2nd best team when it comes to turnover percentage (.118). And after giving up 20 offensive rebounds to the Suns, Chicago faces the 22nd best offensive rebounding team.
The Bulls have alternated wins and losses for most of this season, so going by that blueprint, tonight will be a loss. They are going to have to put in a much better effort for 48 minutes. Chicago can’t afford to give up 20 offensive rebounds to any team really, but especially a team as good as the Clips.
Right now the Clippers look like championship contenders. The Bulls obviously are missing a huge piece. But their defense the last two games has not been good. The last two times out the Bulls’ defensive rating has been 102.9 against Phoenix and 111.0 against Boston. This has to be a bounce-back game for the defense. If not, that win-loss pattern is going to continue.
The NBA has certain axioms that have stood the test of time.
One of these is that any road win is a good win.
Another is that it is important — possibly even crucial — to open an extended road swing with a victory.
Well, the Bulls started their annual circus road trip with an overtime win in Phoenix last night, which all things being equal means they came away with a good and important victory.
But they sure went and did it the hard way.
Bad Fourth Quarter D:
Things were actually going reasonably well for the first 36 minutes. The Bulls were in control most of the first half and then started to put the hammer down during the third quarter. In fact, when Carlos Boozer scored his 23rd and 24th points with 3:03 left in the third, the Bulls went up by 18 points (79-61) and the game seemed pretty much over.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
Look. I know it’s the NBA and, as coaches and commentators like to say, everybody makes a run. But the Bulls became rather complacent on defense over the final 12 minutes. And it nearly cost them the game.
After limiting Phoenix to 18 points in the third quarter — by playing the kind of defense we’ve come to expect under coach Tom Thibodeau by the way — the Bulls got 31 points dropped on them in the fourth.
Even worse, Phoenix reserves Sebastian Telfair (17 points, 4-for-8 on threes, 4 assists) and Shannon Brown (11 points) did most of the damage.
Telfair scored 9 points in the fourth — all on threes — and had 3 assists. Brown scored 10 points in that quarter, which included three driving layups, one of which ended in an “And 1!” opportunity. And Brown completed it.
Simply put, the Bulls got too lax on defense, giving up a series of easy looks. And that gave the Suns new life. It energized them.
And the Bulls gave up more than just easy looks.
The Suns pulled down 20 offensive rebounds and finished with an Offensive Rebounding Percentage of 39.2. To put it another way, for every 10 misses, Phoenix got about four second chances.
The Suns ripped down 6 offensive boards in the fourth quarter alone.
Considering the Bulls are a fairly strong rebounding team, those numbers are mind boggling.
Again, the Phoenix bench did most of the damage here, between P.J. Tucker (7 offensive rebounds) and Markieff Morris (5 offensive rebounds).
But getting back to those 6 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. That — along with the Suns’ scoring explosion — is a sure sign of how lackadaisical the Bulls became after building that huge lead. From the moment Chicago went up by 18 points until overtime, they got thoroughly outworked.
It’s understandable. After all, Boozer scored a game-high 28 points on 11-for-20 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line. He also pulled down a co-game-high 14 rebounds to go with 3 assists and a steal.
Not a bad stat line.
That said…Boozer scored only 4 points after the Bulls established that 18-point lead. He attempted only one shot in the fourth quarter (a miss) and three shots in overtime (all misses).
Noah’s stat line wasn’t quite as gaudy as Boozer’s — 21 points (9-for-19), 12 rebounds, 5 assists — but he scored 11 of his points after the Bulls had given up their big lead. That included a) two 17-foot jumpers in the fourth quarter and b) Chicago’s final two buckets in overtime — a nifty driving layup that put the Bulls up 110-101 with 1:23 remaining and a cold-blooded 18-footer with 29 seconds left that held off the Suns’ final flurry.
Said Thibs: “He’s been playing this way now throughout the preseason, throughout the season. He’s healthy. And so that’s the big thing; he’s working hard on his game, he’s studying, he’s preparing to play. I think he’s shown that he’s a lot more than just a hustle guy. The thing right now that I think he’s doing great is he’s screening — the better the screen he sets the more he’s open. The more he’s open … he’s making his moves a lot quicker.”
Everybody can improve:
Thibodeau did make one other observation about Noah’s game: “(He) probably could have had 30 tonight if he had made his dunks.”
Thibs has a point. According to the ESPN shot chart, Noah missed eight shots in the paint. And according to Hoopdata, he missed six of his 12 attempts at the rim.
That said, Hoopdata tells us that Noah is currerntly shooting a career-best 62.5 percent at the rim. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.1 field goal attempts per game from 16-23 feet…and knocking down 41 percent of them. Finger guns, people. Finger guns.
Another strong game for Luol Deng:
Boozer and Noah were the stars, but Deng was his usual steady self: 21 points, 8-for-14, 5 rebounds, 2 assists.
He may have had a “comeback year” in 2010-11 and then made the All-Star team last season, but Deng is playing his best basketball in years. According to Basketball-Reference, his Player Efficiency Rating is currently 17.1. That’s the second-highest mark of his career.
The Good news:
The Bulls scored 50 points in the paint and 17 points on fast breaks.
The Bad News:
The Bulls gave up 48 points in the paint and 14 points on fast breaks.
Key Stats Part 1:
The Bulls and Suns both committed 15 turnovers. The difference: Chicago scored 22 points off Phoenix turnovers, whereas the Suns scored only 9 points off Bulls turnovers.
Key Stats Part 2:
One game after letting the Celtics score 113 points per 100 possessions, the Bulls allowed Phoenix to finish with an Offensive Rating of 108.7. That’s above the Suns’ season average of 104.1 (13th in the league) and well over the season average for Bulls opponents (99.5).
The Bulls haven’t played many bad defensive games under Thibodeau…let alone two in a row. It’ll be interesting to see how they do against the Clippers on Saturday. After all, “The Other L.A. Team” beat the Heat last night and currently rank fourth in the league in Offensive Rating (108.9).
Key Stats Part 3:
According to Hoopdata, Chicago’s defense was pretty stout in most zones. Phoenix shot 2-for-7 (28 percent) from 3-9 feet, 0-for-4 (zero percent) from 10-15 feet, 12-for-37 (32 percent) from 16-23 feet and 6-for-21 from three-point range (28 percent).
But they shot 22-for-32 (68.8 percent) at the rim.
The Suns were playing some scrappy ball last night. At times, their defense was a little slap happy, which got under the skin of some of the Bulls players. Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Rip Hamilton all received technical fouls. And Hinrich was so animated while getting into the face of an official that I was afraid he’d get tossed.
However, I’m more concerned about the timing than the percentages. By which I mean: Four of the Bulls’ seven misses came in the fourth quarter. And three of those misses came in the final two minutes.
The last miss was by Richard Hamilton — who leads the Bulls in foul shooting at 91 percent — came with 17 seconds left. Had Hamilton knocked that shot down, the Bulls would have gone up 101-98 and the Suns would have needed a three to force overtime. Instead, Phoenix managed to earn a trip to OT with a layup.
Interestingly enough, as players were lining up for Hamilton’s foul shots, a Suns player (I couldn’t tell who) smacked the ball out of Rip’s hands. It was an obvious “psyche out” move, which I thought had failed when Hamilton knocked down the first free throw. But when he missed the second, I had to wonder.
Opposing Player of the Game:
Man, did Luis Scola put the hurt on the Bulls, or what? Scola scored a team-high 24 points (12-for-22) and a co-game-high 14 rebounds in 43 minutes before fouling out.
And he was the only Phoenix starter with a positive plus-minus score (+8). The rest were in the red. Some deep in the red. To wit:
Jared Dudley: -7
Goran Dragic: -20
Michael Beasley: -20
Marcin Gortat: -22
Speaking of Beasley — who went a dismal 4-for-15 — can you believe that he was chosen second overall in the 2008 NBA Draft? Just behind Derrick Rose and ahead of guys like O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.
Not only did Beasley answer cell phone calls during the interview, he answered Reinsdorf’s question of “What about college basketball bothered you the most” with “When you go on the road and they referees make bad calls.”
Rose’s answer? What bothered him most about college basketball?
Pretty much says it all.
Quote of the Night:
Thibs: “The lesson we have to learn is we have to play tough with the lead. I thought we got a little loose. We were throwing lobs and not strong with the ball.”
Teague, Butler, Deng, Taj, Noah. That’s who finished the game for the Bulls. If it weren’t for some missed foul shots and untimely turnovers, the Bulls could’ve pulled this game out over the Celtics.
Although the lineup didn’t work, it was nice to see some of these guys getting minutes, and important minutes at that. Teague rarely left the bench for the first few games, but an injury to Kirk Hinrich forced Thibodeau’s hand. And in the end he trusted Teague more than Nate Robinson. Butler got the nod over Rip Hamilton. It might not have worked this game, but the confidence will help in the future. When Rose returns, maybe the four other players on the court won’t just stand around.
One person who always sits around in crunch time is Carlos Boozer. Boozington hasn’t played in five straight fourth quarters, if I remember correctly. A $15 million dollar player that your coach is afraid to use in crunch time because his scoring is iffy and his defense is nonexistent. Boozer was even scoring well against Boston, going 7-14. But his negatibe-17 plus/minutes probably sealed him to the bench for the final quarter. It definitely wasn’t that Taj was playing great, he finished 1-4, but he was playing defense, as usual.
The problem with the lineup is that they aren’t very good on offense. Deng was 11-20 but isn’t great at creating shots. As much as I love Noah, he isn’t the best option for a creator. They would be tough to score against, and that showed when for the first time all game they were stopping Boston, but the offense needs work.
The Bulls can’t allow a team as good as the Celtics to shoot 50.6 percent and still expect to win the game. It just won’t happen much. The fact that the Bulls were still in the game, after Boston shot so well and Chicago turned it over six more times is a good sign. But that’s two games, against the Thunder and Celtics the Bulls failed down the stretch.
Boston and Oklahoma City are very good teams, but even against lesser competition, the Bulls are going to have a hard time closing games out without their go-to scorer. Hate to say it, but Joakim Noah isn’t that guy. It can be Luol on certain nights, but even that is questionable. If the Bulls want to win, getting off to good starts is going to be important. Oh and they have to make free throws down the stretch too.
And that’s the opposite of what they did against Boston. Boston shot 56 percent and had 82 points through three quarters. So the Bulls were fighting an uphill battle, without two point guards. The Bulls fell, but they don’t like to lose two in a row.
The Suns are coming off an impressive win. Phoenix had seven scorers in double figures, led by Goran Dragic with 21, and downed the Nuggets. The Suns won because they only turned the ball over six times while the Nugs had 15 turnovers. Phoenix has held onto the ball all season, ranking third in turnover percentage (.118). They also got to the line 21 times, and made 18 of those freebies (81 percent). Their 15-9 offensive rebounding margin didn’t hurt either. Those three things helped them overcome Denver shooting 53.9 percent from the field.
The Suns defense is what the doctor ordered for the Bulls. Chicago has been struggling on offense all year, hitting 100 points just once, against the Cavaliers (they scored 115 that game). But they should have a good chance to do it against the Suns. Phoenix is 27th in defensive rating (108.9) and 4th in pace (94.6), which is a recipe for a lot of points. Opponents have a .516 effective field goal percentage against Phoenix, good for 28th in the league.
The Bulls are right in the middle of the road offensively, 15th in offensive rating (102.9) and 19th in effective field goal percentage (.469). That tends to happen when your best offensive creator is Joakim Noah.
After playing six of the first seven at home, the Bulls start the circus road trip. The Bulls play their next five on the road and don’t return home until the 26th. Luckily for the Bulls, it starts off easy against the Suns, but it gets tougher, visiting the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Rockets and Bucks.
Teague Time: It would be nice to see Marquis get these type of minutes more often. With Rose and now Hinrich out, I would ask the question what’s to lose? Nate Robinson isn’t going to help the team much in the future. Robinson only got a one-year deal. The Bulls can keep Marquis on his rookie deal until 2015-16.
Omer Asik didn’t look like much when he came into the league. But he grew to be one of Thibodeau’s most trusted players. Asik and Gibson closed games, including big playoffs matchups, over Noah and Boozer. When Rose is back, Teague probably won’t be closing any games, but this confidence can only help him grow.
The good news:
According to ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell, Derrick Rose has taken the next step in rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, and he is now cutting again.
The bad news:
Chicago’s defense was terrible last night.
The Bulls held the Celtics to 19 points on 35 percent shooting in the fourth quarter — which included a scoreless stretch of over five minutes — but Boston scored 82 points on 56 percent shooting through the first three quarters and took a 12-point lead into the final frame.
During quarters one through three, the Celtics ran an offensive clinic, and Rajon Rondo (20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals) scored at will (10-for-16).
The Associated Press was quick to point out that this was the first time since April 8 of last season — a streak of 15 games — that a Bulls opponent scored 100 points. But, frankly, I’m concerned less with point totals than scoring efficiency.
And Boston was ruthlessly efficient last night.
The Celtics finished with an Offensive Rating of 113.1, which is significantly better than their season average (102.7) and much better than the season average of Bulls opponents (98.4).
For further perspective, the New York Knicks currently lead the NBA in Offensive Rating at 114.3, which means the Celtics were running their offense like the league’s best.
Said Luol Deng: ”It was bad. It was really bad. They shot a high percentage the whole game. The (pregame) talk was about scoring, but we’re a defensive team. That’s what gets us going, that’s what wins us games. And we got to do that.”
Indeed, the Bulls didn’t play with any kind of edge on defense until the fourth quarter, by which time they were fighting tooth and nail to get back into the game. Nate Robinson can be faulted for letting Rondo speed past him time after time, but the help defense wasn’t being very helpful either. The Bulls all looked a step slow and probably would have gotten blown out if Kevin Garnett (6-for-15) had been knocking down his open shots.
Said Taj Gibson: ”It was just too cordial. We were giving up too many easy baskets. We gave them a lot of confidence early. It’s hard to shut off a faucet like that, especially with a great team in the Celtics, where they hit shots, they’re a jump shooting team. We just kept fighting but at the end of the game it was kind of hard to cool that down.”
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
The Bulls committed 14 turnovers…but it felt like twice that many. That’s probably because many of them weren’t really forced by Boston’s defense, being the product of casual and careless passing/ball-handling.
Chicago coughed up the ball on back-to-back possessions to end the first half and then lost the rock five times in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter turnovers were the most painful. One came on an offensive foul by Marquis Teague after the Bulls had pulled to within 87-84 with about seven minutes to go. A minute later, with the score still 87-84, Deng had a bad pass snatched away by Rondo. With 4:30 left and Boston leading 89-84, Marco Belinelli turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds. Then there was the shot clock violation with 1:28 on the clock and the C’s up 95-91.
Missed free throws:
The Bulls had a 31-16 edge in free throw attempts. Their conversion rate wasn’t terrible — 24-for-31 (77.4 percent) — but the critical misses were haunting.
Teague missed one when the Bulls were down 93-89 with 2:47 left.
Deng went 0-for-2 when the Bulls were down 95-91 with 54 seconds left.
Gibson went 0-for-2 when the Bulls were down 97-93 with 40 seconds left.
Those misses were absolutely brutal. And they potentially cost the Bulls a big comeback.
The three-point shooting apocalypse continues:
The Bulls deserve due credit for holding the Celtics to 3-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Of course, Boston ranks a very average 16th in three-point shooting percentage (34.3).
At this point, the Bulls almost have to keep their opponents from knocking down treys, because their own three-point shooting remains beyond pitiful. Last night’s 3-for-9 performance makes them 25-for-79 (31.6 percent) for the season.
Make no mistake: This lack of three-point shooting is holding them back. The Bulls are an achingly average team on offense, ranking 15th in Offensive Rating (102.9) and 17th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.9).
More and more, the best offensive teams hit threes. The Bulls do not.
Player of the Game:
Deng’s strong start — he’s currently averaging 18.9 PPG on 48 percent shooting to go with 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists — continued last night.
Deng finished with a game-best 26 points on 11-for-20 shooting while ripping down a co-game-high 11 boards and dishing 3 assists. Deng played his usual solid D and easily won his match-up with his Celtics counterpart Paul Pierce (10 points, 4-for-13, 6 rebounds, 5 assists).
Deng barely edged Joakim Noah for PoG honors. Noah scored 17 points himself, going 6-for-10 from the field and 5-for-5 from the line. Jo also had 11 rebounds and 3 assists.
The season is young, but Noah is currently averaging career highs in MPG (39.3), PPG (15.3), FTA (5.3), FT% (83.8), APG (3.3), BPG (2.3) and SPG (1.4).
What’s more, Noah has never been as assertive on offense as he is this year. In times past, Noah was a painfully reluctant scorer unless he had an open dunk, layup or putback. He’s always been a gifted and willing passer, but his scorer’s mentality has developed, and it’s making him a more dangerous player.
With Kirk Hinrich out (strained right hip), point guard duties fell to Robinson and Teague. Robinson played more minutes (30) than Teague (18) and won the raw statistical battle (11 points and 7 assists to 5 points and 2 assists).
That said, Robinson finished with a plus-minus score of -15 whereas the Bulls were +9 with Teague on the floor. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau must have noticed the discrepancy — and the fact that none of the Celtics could stay in front of Teague — because the rookie played the entire fourth quarter.
Said Thibs: “He played hard. That is the first step. I liked the way he matched up with speed. (Leandro) Barbosa and Rondo are super quick. I like that matchup for Marquis. He used his speed and quickness to extend our defense a bit.”
Most importantly, the kid looked confident. Looked like he belonged. Rather than simply deferring to his veteran teammates, Teague ran the offense and made aggressive drives.
Said Rondo: “It’s good confidence for a young player to be playing when the game’s on the line. I think he played maybe the last seven minutes. That shows a lot of confidence with him and (Bulls coach Tom) Thibodeau. He’s a good player. He’s a confident player. He’s been a winner all his life. He won at Kentucky, so I don’t think he shies away from confidence. He’s ready when his name is called. He got to the cup a couple times, drew some fouls. For a player that young, your confidence just grows and grows.”
Added Gibson: “The way he was just calling plays (impressed me). He didn’t get fazed going against Rondo, understanding what he had to do against Rondo. He’s only going to get better. This is like only his third game playing in a regular NBA game. I told him it’s different than the preseason, the way guys are moving, guys taking shots. But it’s all about guys keeping their heads up and building confidence. It’s all about confidence.”
Hopefully, Teague can hold onto this experience and the experiences coming in the next few games. He’ll need to. When Hinrich and Rose are both back, that will put Teague at fourth on the point guard depth chart.
Taj continues to struggle:
The Bulls outscored the Celtics by 11 points when Gibson was on the floor. Statistically speaking, that’s where the good news ends.
Gibson submitted a pretty dull line of 4 points on 1-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, no steals, no blocked shots, 1 turnover, and 3 fouls in 21 minutes. He also missed those critical free throws in the final minute.
I’m worried about Taj. The season is still very young, so my worries are mild, but I’m worried nonetheless. Gibson is shooting a career-low 42.6 percent while also averaging a career-low 4.8 rebounds per game. In fact, a quick look shows that his rebounding averages have fallen each year he’s played:
That’s not all. During his rookie season, Taj had 18 double-doubles. His sophomore season, he had only 6. Last season — possibly because of the lockout — that number dropped to 4. He has none so far this season.
Something that has been true ever since Tom Thibodeau took over remains true this season, even throughout the injuries and personnel changes: the Bulls are rarely going to lose two games in a row.
After getting outscored 31-19 in the fourth quarter and falling to the Thunder, the Bulls once again bounced back. They turned a three point lead to start the fourth into a seven point win. Not a huge victory, especially considering Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were both out, but the Bulls will take any win they can get without their superstar.
Tonight it looks like the Bulls are going to be down to their third point guard. If Kirk Hinrich (hip) doesn’t play, and it appears he won’t, it’ll be a long night for Nate Robinson. Robinson isn’t known for his defense, but Rajon Rondo is known for being a terror to defenders (while also being kind of a jerk). Rondo is averaging 13 assists per game in the early going, plus 14.7 points.
The Celtics haven’t been as good as they have been in recent years. They rank just 19th in offensive efficiency (101.1) and 22nd in defensive efficiency (104.1). For a team that is usually near the top in all defensive categories, that is a scary early season number that could come back to bite them. And really they haven’t played any offensive powerhouses other than the Heat. They allowed 120 to Miami, but since then they played the Bucks twice, Wizards twice and the Sixers. None of those teams scream “high scoring.”
The Bulls are currently second in defensive rating (96.1).
And to compare the offenses, the Bulls are 13th in offensive efficiency, with a 102.4 ranking. As Bulls fans, you have seen how bad Chicago’s offense can be at times (like down the stretch against the Thunder).
Boston let Ray Allen walk to Miami this summer, and replaced him with airplane-loving shooter Jason Terry. JET is playing well thus far, averaging 11.7 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Terry is a scorer and those point totals are about all he is putting up in his 25 minutes per game (2.0 assists as well).
Ray Allen is averaging 13.3 points per game, while shooting 56.7 percent (!) from downtown in his new role with the Heat. Terry might not be as much of a threat on the wing as Allen, but who really is?
The Bulls took three of four from Boston last season, the loss coming when the Bulls were without Rose and Rip Hamilton. In that defeat, Luol Deng shot 3-12 and recorded a 79 offensive rating…yeesh.
Rondo preyed on CJ Watson in the defeat, recording a triple-double. He scored 32 points (11-22 from the field, 10-13 from the line) to go with 10 rebounds and 15 assists. John Lucas probably didn’t slow Rondo down much either. So good luck to Nate tonight who will have his hands full. Rondo is just a 61.8 percent free throw shooter for his career and is hitting just 55 percent from the line this season. So if it comes down to it, resort to the Kurt Thomas method and use all of the fouls you have.
Bounce back: Carlos Boozer has to bounce back from his 2 point effort against the Timberwolves. Boozington did his best Omer Asik impression Saturday day night, when went 0-5 from the field in his 27 minutes, while grabbing nine rebounds and committing four fouls.
The Bulls were leading after three quarters against the Thunder, but they let the lead slip away. Kevin Durant took over for Oklahoma City and closed out the game. The Bulls had no one to answer Durant in crunch time. This isn’t a surprise with Derrick Rose on the bench.
Luol Deng did his best “closer” impersonation early in the fourth, but he couldn’t keep up with the scoring champ in clutch time. Lu finished 11-21 for 27 points and also started hitting from downtown. Going into the game against Oklahoma City, Deng was 1-11. Against the Thunder he hit 3-6 from three.
He couldn’t stop Durant when the Bulls really needed it though, who finished 11-19 for 24 points. Durant did have 6 turnovers, so Deng’s defense did something.
Hinrich once again played well on the defensive end, holding Russell Westbrook to 16 points on 7-22 shooting. Russ did have 12 assists, but you can’t put that on Hinrich if he is getting the ball out of Westbrook’s hands. But in all honesty it wasn’t “Good Westbrook” that showed up last night. He only had two turnovers, but was taking some pretty poor shots.
As a team, Oklahoma City shot 49.3 percent from the field, which is going to be tough to beat. Serge Ibaka, who seems to love playing against the Bulls, was 8-15 for 21 points, while also recording nine rebounds and four blocks.
For all the good Kirk did on defense, he didn’t add much on the other side of the ball. He scored 12 points on 12 shots and recorded just five assists. He only turned it over once though, which was the fewest for the Bulls’ starters.
But nothing could top Marco Belinelli’s night. He played six minutes and score two points, which came from free throws. Seems ho-hum. Well it is, until you see the he had a minus-18 plus/minus. In six minutes with Belinelli on the floor, the Bulls were outscored by 18 points. This flabbergasted me.
Plus/minus is a flawed stat. But it can still show a little bit about the game. Something that jumps out from this matchup was the benches. The Bulls second unit (six bench players got in the game) all recorded negative plus/minuses, led by the above mentioned Marco Belinelli and Taj Gibson (-12).
The Thunder bench (four players) all recorded positive plus/minuses, led by Nick Collison (+15). Oklahoma City’s bench is good, with Collison, Kevin Martin and Eric Maynor, but the Bulls’ second unit used to be something very special. On Thursday they got outplayed.
The Bulls lost a hard-fought one on Thursday. It should be easier tonight against the Timberwolves. Minnesota is still without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
The Wolves are 4-1 without their two best players though, after winning on a last-second Chase Budinger lay-up to top the Pacers last night. Minnesota’s defense has been on point, allowing the opponent to score more than 86 points just twice so far (Brooklyn and Indiana both scored 96 against them, but the Wolves still took both games). The Bulls haven’t allowed less than 86 all year.
Part of the low scoring for the Wolves is pace (28th in the league), but their defense has been great as they are in the top ten in both opponent field goal percentage (.454, 4th) and defensive rating (99.9, 9th).
Both teams are missing their best scorers and playmakers (the Bulls best scorer and playmaker happens to be the same guy) and will have to rely on their defense to secure wins. Chicago is second in defensive rating, at 96.4.
Another way to get points is to crash the offensive glass, and Minnesota has been doing just that. The Timberwolves rank sixth in offensive rebounding percentage (.310). The Bulls have slipped in this category from last season as they are just 12th (.271). Last season the Bulls were first, at 32.6.
As much as I like to joke about Omer Asik, I can’t help but point out that part of the lowered percentage is missing Asik.
Houston was 14th (.275) last season in offensive rebounding percentage. This year, they are currently3rd (.329). Asik’s offensive rebound rate is 16.2 percent for Houston, up from 14.9 a year ago. That 16.2 offensive rebound rate puts Asik sixth in the league. Joakim Noah (12.7) is 14th on the list. Not only are the Bulls missing Omer’s defense, they are clearly missing his rebounding (it must be said, that some of these rebounds definitely resulted in turnovers or missed layups, but still it’s the opportunities created). Omer is second in total rebound percent (22.3). Jo isn’t in the top 20.
The Bulls and Timberwolves played just once last season, a Bulls 111-100 win. Rose, Love and Rubio all played in that one, and both teams have gone through some changes in the offseason. Budinger, last night’s hero, is averaging 12.4 points per game and fellow new addition Andrei Kirilenko is putting in 11.2, while Nikola Pekovic is the Wolves’ leading scorer at 13.8 points per contest.
In addition to the two stars, Minnesota could be without JJ Barea (sprained foot) and Brandon Roy (knee) tonight.
“It’s OK,” forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “We’ll still keep winning. Injuries, that don’t matter. Winning is what matters.”
Meanwhile, minus their superstar scorer/playmaker, the Bulls’ crunch time possessions (final five minutes) went as follows. Successful plays are in bold.
4:54: Taj Gibson turnover
4:37: Kirk Hinrich missed 21-footer 4:16: Richard Hamilton 2-for-2 from the line
3:46: Luol Deng missed three-pointer
3:31: Kirk Hinrich missed 23-footer
3:30: Joakim Noah offensive rebound and missed tip shot
2:55: Noah missed hook shot (blocked by Serge Ibaka) 2:51: Hamilton made 22-footer
2:18: Noah missed 18-footer
1:47: Deng turnover
1:08: Hamilton missed 19-footer 0:35: Gibson made 20-footer 0:15: Noah made layup
0:03: Vladimir Radmanovic missed three-pointer
0:01: Richard Hamilton missed 17-footer
In case you didn’t notice, Chicago’s clutch plays included an awful lot of long jumpers. Oklahoma City’s defense forced them outside. Two attempts to get a closer look ended in a blocked shot (when Noah attempted a hook with 2:55 to go) and a turnover (when Deng drove awkwardly into traffic and got the ball stripped by Thabo Sefolosha with 1:47 on the clock).
And, yeah, Noah made a layup with 15 seconds left, but that was one of those end-of-game concession baskets.
To me, Chicago’s end-of-game scoring issues were epitomized by this play: With 2:18 left and the score tied 87-87, Noah launched a baseline jumper from 18 feet.
Was Noah open? Yes.
Was that really the shot the Bulls wanted from that possession? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong. Noah can hit that shot. But it’s not his shot.
Look, I know that Durant hit some really tough clutch shots, but it’s also true that the Bulls 1) weren’t drawing fouls and 2) couldn’t get anything going toward the basket in the final five minutes. And the former was largely due to the latter.
OKC’s defense and the absence of Rose both played a part in that. But it’s not wholly (and simply) an issue of “the Bulls didn’t have a finisher.”
In fact, there were two factors in this loss much bigger than Durant and Rose.
The first factor was turnovers. The Bulls lost the ball 21 times for a total of 20 points going the other way.
Of course, the Thunder had 22 turnovers that were converted into 19 points for the Bulls, so some people might say that category was a wash. But I say that, when playing a superior team, the lesser team absolutely must take care of the basketball because there is almost no margin for error.
Said Noah: “We turned the ball over too much. It was a frustrating loss. We really had a chance to win this game. They’re obviously very talented, but a couple of our shots down the stretch just went in and out. Overall, I felt we played hard, but those turnovers definitely haunted us.”
Did they ever.
The other factor was, frankly, poor bench play. Let’s look at Chicago’s plus-minus numbers:
Richard Hamilton: +9
Joakim Noah: +5
Carlos Boozer: +4
Kirk Hinrich: +3
Luol Deng: -2
Marco Belinelli: -18
Taj Gibson: -12
Nate Robinson: -9
Nazr Mohammed: -5
Vladimir Radmanovic: -4
Jimmy Butler: -1
Now let’s look at Oklahoma City’s plus-minus stats:
Kendrick Perkins: -14
Russell Westbrook: -4
Kevin Durant: -3
Serge Ibaka: -2
Thabo Sefolosha: +13
Nick Collison: +15
Eric Maynor: +10
Kevin Martin: +10
Hasheem Thabeet: +5
Despite his clutch performance, the Thunder were outscored when Durant was on the floor. Ditto for Westbrook (16 points, 12 assists, 2 reboundss) and Serge Ibaka (21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks). And of course Kendrick Perkins (5 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 0 points) was dreadful.
Meanwhile, the Bulls starting unit — minus Deng — were all on the plus side of the ledger. Even Boozer, who shot poorly (3-for-9), committed 5 turnovers, and had several defensive slips.
The fact remains that, in terms of plus-minus, Chicago’s starters outperformed their Oklahoma City counterparts (the exceptions being Deng and Sefolosha), while OKC’s bench vastly outperformed the Bulls’ reserves in terms of points (29-14), rebounds (11-5) and plus-minus (+40 to -49).
So, Durant’s greatness aside, the Bulls could have won this game had they taken better car of the ball and/or gotten a little better production out of their bench.
Or, heck, done a better job putting some D on OKC’s reserves. Martin (15 points, 3-for-5 from the field, 1-for-1 on threes, 8-for-9 from the line) and Maynor (10 points, 2-for-4, 1-for-1 on threes, 5-for-5 from the line) had incredibly efficient scoring nights, with True Shooting Percentages of 83.7 and 80.6, respectively.
That said, I suppose you could list defense as a factor two, considering the Thunder finished with an Offensive Rating of 101.5 and an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 52.7, both higher than the Bulls’ opponent season averages of 96.4 and 46.9.
Or maybe it’s a combination of all these things: The clutchness of Durant, the absence of Rose, turnovers, lack of bench production and defense.
But on the bright side, despite the several things that didn’t go their way, the Bulls stood up to one of the league’s elite teams and nearly beat them without Rose.
Said Deng: “No one has to change the way they play. We just got to keep playing. … We’re right there in the game. We got to have a better fourth. That’s what we normally do, and that’s what we got to get back to.”
Bulls Player of the Game:
It was very clearly Deng, who had game-highs in minutes (42) and points (27), in addition to good shooting (11-for-21 overall, 3-for-6 on threes, 2-for-2 from the line).
Bulls goat of the game:
Marco Belinelli played six minutes. The Bulls were outscored by 18 points during those six minutes. And although that’s obviously not all on Belinelli, I’m already coming to associate his presence on the floor with bad things happening for the Bulls. He’s like the anti-Kyle Korver.
Hinrich had a reasonably strong game (12 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds) and helped harass Westbrook into a 7-for-22 shooting night. What’s more, Captain Kirk drew fouls on two aggressive drives in which the refs should have called continuation but didn’t.
Deng sprained his left thumb during the fourth quarter.
More key stats:
Yes, there are plenty of key stats above. Here are two more: The Bulls were outscored 31-19 in the fourth quarter and 46-34 in the paint.
Although a lot has changed since last season, one thing seems to have remained the same: the Bulls don’t like to lose twice in a row. After falling to the Hornets in an ugly defeat, Chicago bounced back and took care of the Magic.
Orlando was previously undefeated, and had scored 115 and 102 points in its first two games. So the Bulls strong defense is another thing that hasn’t changed. The Magic were the first team to score more than 90 against Chicago in this young season, but the Bulls offense did just enough to finish the job. Defense has always been the focus since Tom Thibodeau took over as coach, but it’s going to be more important this season than it has; at least until Derrick Rose returns (if he does come back this year).
But tonight will be a real test for the Bulls, as the defending Western Conference champs visit the United Center.
This will be the first look that Chicago gets at the Thunder with Kevin Martin. The two teams played in late October in the preseason, but that was before the James Harden deal went down (imagine having too many prolific scorers). And actually the Bulls were all over Harden in that game, limiting him to 13 points on 2-17 shooting. Serge Ibaka picked up the scoring though, dropping 24 (10-17 from the field). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook did not play, so it may not the best representation of tonight’s game.
Kevin Martin, who replaced James Harden, is averaging 19.3 points per game.
Oklahoma City is coming off a win over Toronto, in which it got relatively quiet games from its two stars. Westbrook scored 19 points on 5-12 shooting and Durant added 15 points on 4-11 from the field. New-guy Kevin Martin scored 15 off the bench.
When you think of the Thunder, you usually think high scoring, with Durant, Westbrook and now Martin. But they are only 13th so far in offensive rating (104.3). They finished second last season in that category. They’ve picked it up on defense though. Right now they are 5th in defensive rating (98.2), after finishing eleventh a season ago. The Bulls are first in defensive rating (95.3) thus far, but haven’t really been tested with a high-scoring offensive opponent yet.
The Thunder are, by far, the toughest test the Bulls have had in the early going. And that is specifically true for Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. Westbrook and Durant are both averaging 20.8 points per game.
Hinrich has done well on the defensive side of the ball. Isaiah Thomas (3-8 from the field), Kyrie Irving (6-15) and Greivis Vasquez (6-18) all struggled against him (E’Twaun Moore did go 7-13 against Kirk on Tuesday). Kyrie will be the only guy close to Westbrook’s talent that he has faced, but Russ creates so many unique challenges. Hinrich is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field, so continued solid defense is important.
The same can be said of Deng. Although Deng is shooting 44.2 percent from the field, that would still be the third worst field goal percentage of his career. It is an improvement over last season’s 41.2 percent, though, which was the lowest of his eight full seasons. He is putting in a career best defensive rating of 98.
In their careers, Durant has averaged 25.7 points on 47.5 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds against Lu. Deng scored just eight points (30.8 percent shooting) the last time the Bulls and Thunder met in April, while KD recorded a double-double with 26 points (68.8 percent) and ten boards.
That game was an unpleasant loss for the Bulls. Without Derrick Rose, they shot just 33.3 percent from the field in a 14 point loss. Kevin Durant’s offensive rating in that game was an absurd 142. A much better defensive effort will be expected, and needed for this one to stay competitive.
Early season stat that could be concerning: Something that really worries me is the Bulls three point shooting. It was obviously going to take a hit with Kyle Korver leaving. But the Bulls really don’t have anybody that can hit a big three now. Deng is 1-11 from deep this year, Marco Belinelli, the guy who was supposed to help “replace” Korver, is 3-8. Rip Hamilton is 0-3 and Nate Robinson is 4-11. Even Joakim Noah is 0-1 (and hopefully he never takes another three again, even if it is for Big Macs).
Obviously four games is very early, but 1-11 from Lu is dreadful. He shot 36.7 percent from three last season. It’s impossible to know if something is wrong, but it is fair to ask if the wrist is bothering him more this season, after a shortened year and then playing in the Olympics. I can guarantee it isn’t helping.
And now the ESPN comments section “Comment of the Night” from erivera723:“Mr Snuggles believes Bulls will win.” Well if Mr. Snuggles says it, it must be true. Congrats Bulls.