The Bulls were embarrassed and humbled by their blowout loss in Game 1 of this first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But under coach Tom Thibodeau, this has never been a group to hang its head and meekly accept defeat. Despite the ongoing absence of Derrick Rose and a variety of guys playing through pain, Bulls fans had to know their team was going have a much better showing in Game 2.
And they did.
As usual, the Bulls did it with their defense, which is usually rock solid but utterly failed them in Game 1. Last night, Chicago’s D limited the Nets to 35.4 percent shooting — including 4-for-21 on three-pointers — and a scoring rate of only 91.4 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
Deron Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew on Saturday, scored only 8 points on 1-for-9 shooting and missed all five of this three-point attempts. After their Game 1 revival, Gerald Wallace (2 points, 1-for-7, 3 rebounds) and Joe Johnson (6-for-18) came back down to earth. And Andray Blatche (8 points on 4-for-9 shooting) and C.J. Watson (10 points on identical 4-for-9 shooting) were unable to find the hot hands they had over the weekend.
Aggressive hands in the face will do that.
Then too, the Bulls forced the Nets into much tougher shots. After scoring 56 points in the paint in Game 1, Brooklyn finished Game 3 with only 30.
Now let’s talk about the third quarter.
After a slow start that saw them shoot 6-for-18 in the first quarter, the Nets caught fire in the second, scoring 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting to pull to within one point (47-46) by halftime. The Bulls made a series of defensive mistakes in that second quarter, like repeatedly leaving Brook Lopez open for long jumpers instead of rotating and contesting them. As a result, Lopez burned them with a trio of 20-footers. And after Lopez stole a careless pass from Luol Deng in the closing seconds of the quarter, Williams found Watson on the fast break, and Nate Robinson didn’t close out quickly enough. Thus the Nets ended the half with what felt like a momentum-building three-ball.
But events didn’t unfold according to Brooklyn’s script.
The Bulls played lock down defense in that third quarter, limiting the Nets to just 11 points on 2-for-19 shooting. Chicago forced Brooklyn into a steady stream of long, contested jumpers. And when the Nets did dare to attack the basket, a Bulls defender was there to intimidate or block the shot.
Here’s the breakdown, with scoring plays in bold:
11:38: Joe Johnson missed 19-footer
11:11: Brook Lopez missed 17-footer
10:29: Deron Williams missed 20-footer
9:56: Deron Williams missed layup 9:55: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the foul line
9:33: Gerald Wallace turnover
9:00: Joe Johnson missed 18-footer
8:25: Brook Lopez missed layup (blocked by Luol Deng) 7:56: Deron Williams 2-for-2 from the foul line
7:09: Deron Williams missed 25-foot three-pointer 6:35: Deron Williams made 7-footer 6:09: Brook Lopez 1-for-2 at the foul line 5:45: Reggie Evans dunk
4:52: Joe Johnson turnover
4:31: Joe Johnson missed 24-foot three-pointer
3:47: Brook Lopez missed layup
3:46: Gerald Wallace missed tip shot
3:00: Joe Johnson missed 11-footer (blocked by Jimmy Butler)
2:58: Brook Lopez offensive rebound and turnover
2:42: Gerald Wallace missed layup (blocked by Jimmy Butler) 1:58: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the line
1:22: Gerald Wallace missed 22-footer
0:50: C.J. Watson missed 11-footer
0:25: Deron Williams missed 26-foot three-pointer
0:24: Andray Blatch missed layup (blocked by Nazr Mohammed)
0:01: Andray Blatch missed 17-footer
The Bulls didn’t just shut down the Nets in the third quarter, they also executed their own offense, shooting 9-for-17 from the field and building a 71-57 lead heading into the fourth.
That’s when Joakim Noah took the Bulls home.
Noah — who was clearly hobbled and struggled with early foul trouble — had 9 points, 6 rebounds and a blocked shots over the final 12 minutes to finish with a double-double (11 points, 4-for-8, 10 rebounds).
The Nets had actually trimmed a 14-point Bulls lead (73-59) to only five (73-68) with 7:39 remaining when Thibodeau subbed Noah back into the game. Less than a minute later, this happened:
Then, after Chris Humphries blew a layup on the other end, Carlos Boozer missed a 17-footer…but Noah ripped down the offensive rebound. Five seconds later, Robinson drilled a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to 10 points (78-68). Less than a minute later, there was Noah again, scoring on a layup that put Chicago ahead by an even dozen.
Even in the final minute, as the Nets were making their desperate (and doomed) ralley, Noah was there to shut them down. And let loose a primal scream.
This is a man who will never, ever, ever give up.
Said Thibodeau: ”I thought overall, I thought Jo was very rusty in the first game but willed it, and I thought he willed it again tonight and we needed every bit of it. To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor.”
Added Boozer: ”Gutsy. Come on man, you know what he’s going through. Every game is a tough game for him. I went through the same thing two years ago with my little turf toe. I’m just proud of him. He’s going out there gutting it for us every night.”
That’s for sure.
Speaking of gutting it out, Kirk Hinrich shook off the effects of his bruised thigh to score 13 points, dish out 5 assists, and play fantastic defense on Williams.
Let’s face it. Noah was the heart and soul of this win, to be sure, but it was still a total team effort. The Bulls got double-doubles from both Boozer (13 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists) and Deng (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists). Robinson (11 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) provided some timely baskets off the bench. And Nazr Mohammed (8 points, 4-for-5, 2 rebounds) provided a big lift when Noah was struggling with rust and foul problems.
And just like that, the Bulls stole homecourt advantage from the Nets.
Chicago Bulls — Game 2: Defensive Rating: 95.7
Pacers eFG%: 45.5
So, by the numbers, the Bulls actually exceeded their regular season average for defensive output in Game 2. Admittedly, they gave up 29 points in the second quarter, but they held Indy to only 43 points in the second half. Meanwhile, they slammed the breaks on Tyler Hansbrough (2-for-12), Paul George (2-for-7), Roy Hibbert (3-for-7), Darren Collison (2-for-5), A.J. Price (3-for-8) and Josh McRoberts (3-for-9).
Admittedly, Jeff Foster (4-for-5) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (3-for-5) knocked down a handful of stunners, but holding any team to 95.7 points per 100 possessions is pretty good defense, right?
Meanwhile, against Indiana’s aggressive (and exceedingly physical) defense, the Bulls managed a pathetic eFG% of only 41.6 percent, and their Offensive Rating (102.0) was well below their regular season average (108.3).
My belief is that the Bulls are struggling because they can’t score. Rose is the only player capable of creating his own shot on the perimeter. He’s also the only player who can consistently make it to the basket against one-on-one defense. Carlos Boozer can score in the post, but he hasn’t gotten consistent opportunities. I”m not sure whether that’s from a lack of effort on his part or because coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t committing to the inside-outside game he talked about so often early in the season.
Look, we all know the defense is going to be there. The Bulls need to get their offensive act together. Boozer scored 17 points and earned nine free throw attempts despite not getting many touches in the second half. There’s no way Indy’s front line should be able to stop him. Chicago needs to force the issue and pound that ball down low. Heck, I’d like to see more post-ups from Joakim Noah while we’re at it. Luol Deng, too. Why not? Danny Granger’s not on the All-Defensive Team.
And, gak, the Bulls’ performance at the rim was awful in Game 2: 15-for-36. That’s right: 21 missed shots at the rim. Take away Rose’s at-the-rim numbers (6-for-11), and the rest of the Bulls were 9-for-25, with the Boozer/Deng/Noah triumvirate combining to go 5-for-19. Excuse me, but when did the Pacers sign Bill Russell?
Give the Pacers credit: They are using extremely physical play to protect the basket. The Bulls need to either figure out a way to finish or draw fouls. Shooting 41.7 percent on 36 attempts at the rim isn’t going to get the job done against anybody. Well, they got by in Game 2, but it’s hard to see that working on the road in Game 3.
You know what I took from this game against the Hawks?
People better start listening to what Derrick Rose has to say.
Rose is a both humble and quite, which borders on amazing when you stop and consider his current stature among the NBA greats. His “aw schucks” attitude and respectful demeanor aren’t acts. In a sports world where the personalities and (especially) egos are larger than life, Rose seems like a creature from another reality. His personality is understated. His ego, if anything, is smaller than life.
Consider a world where Dwight Howard has 16 technical fouls on the season. Amar’e Stoudemire has 15. Carmelo Anthony has 13. Kobe Bryant has 12. Kevin Garnett has 11. Dwyane Wade has nine. “Good guy” Blake Griffin has eight. Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook have seven a piece. The usually calm Steve Nash has six. Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have four each.
Derrick Rose has one technical foul. One technical foul during a season in which NBA officials have more leeway than ever to T up players for overreacting to calls and non-calls.
And it’s the only technical foul Rose has ever had on any level.
When Derrick earned his one and only tech back in December, he said: ”Next time I’ve just got to hold it in and hopefully I won’t get any more techs, because I need that (fine) money. There’s a recession out here.”
Rose was joking around, but he was serious too. And you know what? He hasn’t been called for a technical foul since. For all we know, he may never get one again.
One of the great misconceptions about Rose — and most of these opinions are expressed by bloggers and scribes outside of Chicago — is that he has no personality. That, by NBA standards, he is quite nearly tabula rasa. It’s as if people haven’t encountered quiet humility and stoic dignity before. Well, in this league, most probably people haven’t. Not in a superstar-level player. The closest comparison I can make is former Boston Celtics great Robert Parish. But, although the Chief was great, he was never considered a franchise player like Rose. Which makes Rose almost an alien being among his peers.
That said, one thing people may have noticed is that, when Rose says something, he means it. He really means it.
Last Sunday, anticipating a rematch of sorts with a Kings team that humilated the Bulls last season by coming back from a 35-point deficit to win in the United Center, said: ”It’s a heartbreaker. But you learn from it. If we’re up 30, we’re going to try to push it to 40, 50 points.”
The Bulls won by 40.
After crushing Sacramento, Rose was looking ahead to his team’s matchup with the Hawks. The last time the Bulls visited Atlanta, they had choked away a 19-point lead and lost by three. Regarding that, Rose said: “You can’t forget that game. I think none of us on the team have [forgotten] that game. You’ve got to remember it. I think that if we get a lead like that down there again, I think that we won’t let them come back the way they did.”
Well, the Bulls got a lead like that again. In fact, they led by as many as 47 and eventually won by 33.
Rose was front and center, making sure the Bulls didn’t let up, trying to crush the the Hawks into a fine paste. He capped off a 20-point first half by drilling a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots, knocked down a career-best six three-pointers on eight attempts, and dished out 10 assists versus only one turnover. That’s a lot of production considering he played only 29 minutes and sat out the entire fourth quarter.
“The way I look at it, why can’t I be the MVP in the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why not. I work hard, I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age, and I know, if I continue to do good what I can get out of it. If that’s me going out and doing whatever, I’m willing to do it because in the long run I know it’s gonna help me. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked out, this past summer. I’ve put a lot of work in, staying in the gym every day, making sure I’m getting prepared for a big season because I believe we can make it far.”
This statement was met with a slight chuckle and mild amusement by many fans and experts. Rose winning the MVP award in a world with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, et al.? On the one hand, people seemed relieved that Rose had finally said something of interest. On the other, they might have preferred something that sounded a little less, well, crazy.
And yet…here we are.
I’m still staying out of the “Rose for MVP” debate. I prefer to see how things shake out by the final day of the regular season. Win-Loss records and all that. That said, LeBron James and Dwight Howard seem to be Rose’s primary competition for the award, and their teams have the sixth and eighth-best records in the league. Historically speaking, that’s not good enough to win the MVP.
So even I have to wonder: Why can’t Rose be the MVP?
The love fest for Rose aside, the Bulls looked fantastic last night. Playing on the second night of back-to-back games on the road against the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, with the first seed on the line, the Bulls ravaged the Hawks like some sort of wild animal. In the first half, they shot 73.8 percent from the field (not to mention a blistering 78 percent from beyond the arc) and outscored the Hawks 72-43. On this night, their offense was every bit as good as their league-leading defense.
The Bulls finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 60.8 and an Offensive Rating of 135.4. They had 30 assists on 43 field goals. They outrebounded the Hawks 40-26 (including an astounding Offensive Rebounding Rate of 32.3) and outscored them 48-18 in the paint. And those numbers include an entire fourth quarter worth of garbage time.
To me, the defining moment of this game came with 2:08 left in the third. With his team leading 91-55, Rose committed his only turnover of the game and, after Joakim Noah fouled Josh Smith to prevent a breakaway, Rose was cursing himself out. Despite being ahead by 36 points. That’s how Derrick works. That’s how this team works.
Rose obviously had a big game and Luol Deng scored 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting. But, and I know I keep saying this, the win was a total team effort. Guys were locking down on defense. Setting pick. Crashing the boards. Setting each other up. And it’s worth reminding the world at large that we are only now seeing how good the Bulls could be. Finally, all the pieces are on the board. Carlos Boozer is back. Joakim Noah is playing. Everyone is in place for the stretch run.
Especially the defense.
That’s right. Defense. Even though the Bulls have had back-to-back red-hot shooting games, everything this team does begins on the other end of the court.
Said Deng: ”I think it starts with our defense. When our mindset is right on defense, we seem to work harder on offense. When we’re not as focused on defense, it kind of leads to our offense. We’re kind of just going through the motions. It always starts with defense.”
Added Rose: “It’s still defensively. Sometimes it gets hard, but to win games, to win a championship, it takes defense. And we’re just trying to stay together on defense, knowing that we can’t take any steps back right now. We’re trying to keep going. We’re trying to push each other every day. Trying to get better. And I think that we’re moving in the right direction.”
That’s another amazing thing about this team. After every loss, after every win, the talk is always about getting better. And it’s not lip service, either. The players have taken that concept to heart. Because of coach Tom Thibodeau.
After back-to-back games on back-to-back nights in which his team led by 40-plus points at various times, Thibs still insisted there’s still plenty of work to do.
Said Thibodeau: “They shot too high of a percentage. Defensively, there’s a lot of things we can clean up. But I like the fact that we got the big lead. And I thought we played tough with the lead. And we want to be a 48 minute team. They outscored us in the fourth 21-16, so there’s things we can correct and improve, but we got to keep the big picture in mind. I think the good teams in this league continue to get better as they go along.”
Considering the Bulls are leading John Hollinger’s Power Rankings by more than two full points and currently have the best point differential (+7.4) in the league, the idea that they can still get better is kind of scary…
…but I like it.
TrueHoop Network: Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: “The Hawks didn’t make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game, though Marvin Williams (in the third quarter) and Jeff Teague (in the fourth quarter) each made a jumper inside of 15 feet during that portion of the game. The Hawks didn’t make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game despite trailing by at least 20 points for the entire time. Defense is about talent more than it’s about effort but a culture of accountability has its place as well.”
In yesterday’s post, I presented various arguments about whether or not Derrick Rose should be given (or should at least be considered) for the MVP award.
Mind you, this kind of discussion, while irresistible, is both futile and meaningless. The MVP is awarded in June, not January. We haven’t even reached the All-Star Break yet. And, last time I checked, the NBA has never handed out a midseason MVP trophy.
Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, writes about the “Christmas Creep” — the phenomenon in which Christmas celebrations (and marketing) begin earlier and earlier each year. Well, NBA community has been suffering “MVP Creep” for a while now.
It’s too early for this debate. But it happens. It happened here, yesterday, and as you can tell by the comments, it can get chippy. People have strong feelings. Even the people trying to (or, at least, claining to) analyze the game from a purely statistical standpoint get pretty emotional about their stance.
A treasure trove of opinions arguing that Derrick Rose is or is not the leading candidate for MVP. I think it’s an accomplishment for Rose to even get into conversations like this, no matter your criteria. He’s a pretty bad defender on the NBA’s seventh-best team, and he’s not even among the very best producers on offense, ranking 14th in PER. Dumb ol’ points per game can sometimes get someone a magic pass, but even there he’s seventh. I’m not saying any of those metrics are gospel. I’m saying the best player in the league ought to really stand out at something, and being the most exciting player and leading scorer on a good team in a big market is not enough.
I have been surprised a few times this season when presented with the “common knowledge” that Rose is a poor defender, even by someone as well-informed and well-connected as Mr. Abbott. It’s understandable. During his first two years in the league, Rose’s defense vascillated between “bad” and “terrible.” He couldn’t stay in front of a traffic code. He didn’t fight through picks. Sometimes his opponents’ shots were launched with nary a hand in the face, other times Derrick would jump at the shadow of a pump fake.
But if you’ve watched Rose this season — really watched him — you’ll know all that has changed. It’s changed by quite a lot, actually. The common knowledge about Rose’s “pretty bad” defense has become a myth, which is why the following article should be required reading for anybody who wants to discuss it.
Rob Mahoney of the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog recently wrote a piece called “Rose Dwarfs Other Improvements With Defense.” It’s as complete and exhaustive as you could possible ask for. There’s in-depth analysis. There are advanced metrics. There are video breakdowns. Like I said, it’s a must-read for smart fans who want to know the full story behind Rose’s improved defense.
Here’s a sampling:
Joakim Noah, thought to be the single key to the Bulls’ defensive success, has played only 24 of 41 games this season, and yet Chicago is still best in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions. Rose doesn’t deserve all of the credit, but the perimeter trio of Rose, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng has made things tough for opposing teams. It’s a matter of necessity; Chicago’s offense isn’t good enough to keep it afloat, and its defense provides the most consistent path toward victory. If Rose were still a defensive sieve, the Bulls would be struggling without Noah. If Rose were merely a moderately successful defender, the Bulls wouldn’t have the top defense and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s taken every bit of Rose’s defensive improvement to keep the Bulls rolling despite significant injuries to both Noah and Carlos Boozer, but he’s quickly taken to Thibodeau’s famed defensive system and delivered in a big way.
More outstanding yet are Rose’s individual defensive numbers. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Rose has allowed just 0.77 points per possession overall on defense this season, an elite mark for any defender, regardless of position. Chris Paul (0.86 points per possession allowed), Rajon Rondo (0.83 PPP allowed), and Russell Westbrook (0.92 PPP allowed) – all excellent defenders – have been trumped statistically this year, and by no slim margin. Rose has each of those players handily beat, and boasts a shockingly comprehensive defensive profile. … Rose is particularly effective in defending isolation sequences, where he allows just 0.61 points per possession.
Like I said: Good stuff.
In his argument against Rose-as-MVP, Abbott said: “I’m saying the best player in the league ought to really stand out at something.” Based on Mahoney’s findings, maybe the thing Rose really stands out at is the very thing Mr. Abbott thinks Derrick is pretty bad at: Defense.
In my game preview post, I said the Bulls were going to need Derrick Rose to play like an All-Star to beat the Pacers. Maybe I was right. Maybe I was wrong. That said…
…Rose did play like an All-Star. And the Bulls won.
Derrick grabbed 10 rebounds and scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half. He shot 11-for-21 from the field, 3-for-6 from downtown and 4-for-5 from the foul line. He even added a couple blocked shots for good measure. On that subject…poor T.J. Ford.
Said Pacers coach Jim O’Brien: ”In the second half, when he’s going like he’s going, it doesn’t matter what you do on a pick-and-roll. That’s why people think that he’s an MVP candidate.”
(Although, in all fairness, Chicago and Indianapolis are pretty close by car…so…)
It wasn’t all Rose though. As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell noted, Chicago actually opened the game with some intensity for a change. It’s not coincidence, then, that the Bulls led by 12 at halftime instead of trailing by double digits.
And their defense really did a number on the Pacers.
The Bulls held Indy to 32.6 percent shooting from the field. The Pacers ended up with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 36.4 and an Offensive Rating of 93.9 (as in points per 100 possessions).
Don’t look now, but according to Basketball-Reference, Chicago now leads the league in Defensive Rating.
Said Luol Deng: ”That’s who we want to be. We want to be a defensive team. And if that’s what we we’re going to be we got to stop people. We can’t be trying to outscore people which we’re capable of doing. But we got to stop teams and win games that way.”
Speaking of which, Lu gets a little extra recognition, not for his stat line (17 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals), but for doing a man’s job on Indiana’s Danny Granger (4-for-17 through three quarters and 8-for-23 overall).
Said Deng: ”He’s such a great shooter. My mindset tonight was, I just didn’t want to lose him. Every time he took a shot, I was doing the best I could to challenge. I didn’t want to let him get any space.”
Additional kudos go to Kurt Thomas (18 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (14 points on 7-for-12 shooting) and the bench (34 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocked shots and a steal).
Oh, and a special thanks goes out to Keith Bogans for committing two quick fouls. Bogans left the game with 10:15 left in the first quarter and the game tied at 2-2. Bogans sat out the rest of the half and the Bulls were up by a dozen at the break.
I’m just sayin’.
It was a total team effort and the Bulls showed up in every category. Hence the season-low seven turnovers and the 46-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Now that the appetizers have been finished…bring on the Heat.
What, did the mayor give Deron Williams the key to the city or something? Because he totally owned Chicago last night.
The AP game notes pretty much said it all: Utah’s 132 points, 34 assists and 3-point percentage (.600) were season-highs for a Bulls opponent. Except for one dunk — more on that below — the Jazz didn’t do anything spectacular. They simply fought, hustled and executed the Bulls to death.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this particular loss is how well the Bulls executed on offense. Mind you, the Jazz are currently ranked 9th in Defensive Efficiency, yet the Bulls shot 54 percent from the field, better than 53 percent in threes (8-for-15), and racked up 20 fast break points. And then they lost by 24. At home.
The Bulls really might as well have put a welcome mat in the paint. That’s how easy a time the Jazz had in there. Utah got 21 layups and two dunks, including one in which Deron Williams posterized Derrick Rose. What’s more, the Jazz dominated the glass (42-32). That total included a 14-6 edge in offensive rebounds. And did I mention Utah earned 39 free throw attempts? Oh, and they scored 24 points off 16 Chicago turnovers.
So, basically, the Jazz either hit the shot, earned a second chance, got fouled, or got the ball right back. There quite literally was no stopping them last night. And let me tell you, several of those free throw were the result of fouls right at the bucket. There was no keeping the Jazz away from the rim…and collapsing on them was just as bad, considering they went 12-for-20 from beyond the arc, including 6-for-7 by C.J. Miles and 2-for-2 from Wesley Matthews.
The absence of Joakim Noah is killing the Bulls.
Brad Miller is a fantastic offensive center. (Most of the time, anyway.) Last night, he scored 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including 3-for-3 from downtown. Miller even added 3 assists for good measure. But he had only 4 rebounds in 33 minutes. Utah’s Paul Millsap logged 32 minutes and finished with 9 boards, including 6 on the offensive end. His impact was huge.
The Bulls needed somebody like that. A physical player who could bring some much-needed energy and grit off the bench. A lot of people were hoping Chris Richard could be that guy. Unfortunately, Richard was pretty ineffective, finishing with 2 rebounds and 5 fouls in 17 minutes. Nice guy. Hard worker. But I guess he spent much of this season in the NBA Developmental League for a reason.
Maybe that guy could have been James Johnson. After all, JJ chipped in 7 points (3-for-5) and 4 rebounds in only 11 minutes of PT. Plus, the Bulls had exactly 1 blocked shot on the night…and Johnson was responsible for it. Yeah, he bricked a couple free throws, but why not give Johnson a shot? Vinny Del Negro needs to unleash this kid. Tell him to go out, get rough, and just bang bodies in the paint. What do we have to lose at this point?
Let’s not forget, Deron Williams was awesome. Williams had game highs in points (28) and assists (17) while shooting 11-for-15 from the field and 3-for-5 in threes. Derrick Rose couldn’t stop him. Kirk Hinrich couldn’t stop him. Williams dominated the game. Controlled it. Owned it. Forget the stats. Williams put on a virtuoso performance. Maybe it was his Booms Beard Lite. But it says something about him that he could so vastly outplay a fellow All-Star like Rose, who had a pretty good game himself (25 points, 13 assists, 4 rebounds).
Said Rose: “He’s always someone I looked up to and I thought he played real well tonight.”
Said Boozer: “That was a helluva matchup. Did you have fun watching that? Because I did. You got to incredible point guards pushing the ball,” Boozer said. “That was one helluva matchup we just watched out there. A great game to watch. I’m going to get that tape and review myself. Those two guys, man … they kept pushing the ball, so everybody kept running. It was a great game.”
Not for the Bulls. No loss is great, and this one carried more weight than most. As you can see from the season standings, Chicago now ranks ninth in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today, the Bulls would be on the outside looking in. Man, a few weeks ago it looked like Chicago had a realistic chance at the fifth or sixth seed. Now it looks like they have a realistic shot at the NBA Draft Lottery.
As if things aren’t bad enough — remember, the Bulls have lost a season-high five games, including the last four at home — next up is a four-game road swing through Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas. Then the Bulls get to come home for a game against the Cavaliers.
The Bulls' defense has been pretty hard to watch lately.
…the Bulls aren’t playing any.
Okay, maybe that statement is a bit on the harsh side, but it’s not too far off the mark. The Bulls have now given up 100 or more points in 10 of their last 13 games. In fact, here’s a rundown of the points they’ve allowed during that stretch: 101, 107, 85, 109, 94, 90, 101, 110, 111, 100, 116, 105 and 122.
See the trend?
And it’s not like every one of those games was against a championship contender. The teams that have notched at least 100 points against the Bulls include the lottery-bound Knicks, Pacers (three times!) and Wizards.
Can I get a hand in the face? Anyone…? Anyone…? Bueller…?
The Bulls traded their best defender (by the numbers) to the Charlotte Bobcats. Their second-best defender is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis. Their other top defenders include Taj Gibson (a rookie who also has plantar fasciitis), Luol Deng (gimpy left knee) and Kirk Hinrich (gimpy right ankle).
Chicago’s success this season — however limited — has been due primarily to their defense. Well, that and Derrick Rose, who has been dealing with some gimpy knee issues of his own lately. Rose didn’t look gimpy against the Mavs. He finished with a game-high 34 points on 15-for-22 shooting to go along with 8 assists. The defense…well…that’s another matter entirely.
Dallas shot better than 56 percent as a team and hit just over 40 percent of their three-pointers. They also racked up 31 assists on 49 field goals. And since I mentioned all of Chicago’s potential excuses, I should probably mention that the Mavs were missing starting center Brendan Haywood (lower back tightness), backup center Erick Dampier (right middle finger surgery), sixth man Jason Terry (left orbital bone surgery) and Tim Thomas (personal reasons). Plus they played at home against the Kings on Friday night and Dirk Nowitzki has been bothered by a sore left hip.
In light of all that, the Bulls’ excuses feel a little hollow.
Due to all the missing bodies, Dallas rookie Rodrigue Beaubois — I know you’re probably thinking “who?!” — was press-ganged into action and responded with a career-high 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting. Then, in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki finished what Beaubois started. Dirk scored 13 points in the final 12 mintes, shutting down Chicago’s rally in the process.
Said Hinrich: “We just couldn’t stop them at the other end.”
Shooting 52+ percent and scoring 116 points usually leads to victory. But the Bulls were only clicking on the offensive end. On top of that, they’re facing a serious talent deficit. Even with all their injuries, the Mavericks can still field a team that includes Nowitzki (a former MVP), Jason Kidd (one of the all-time greats), Caron Butler (a proven 20-point scorer) and Shawn Marion (a do-everything player at both ends). That certainly trumps Chicago’s current top four of Rose, Deng, Gibson and, well, whoever else you want to name. Hinrich? Brad Miller? Jannero Pargo?
The Bulls are not good enough without Joakim Noah. Not defensively, not offensively, not in any way. Even with him, they’re merely above average.
To make matters worse, the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks — who got Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons in Chicago’s “Salary Dump Sweepstakes” — have been on fire. The Bobcats beat the defending champion Lakers on Friday night, while the Bucks defeated the league-leading Cavaliers on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are playing well in stretches. But ultimately, they can’t hang with the good teams for 48 minutes.
Said Rose: “”The team needs to find a way to win games. It is frustrating.”
Yes it is. Very.
The Bulls (31-31) have lost four games in a row and are now eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. And the Bobcats (30-31) is nipping at their heels. All the team can do is play and hope to get through this rough patch — they are three games into a nine-game stretch against division leaders and potential playoff teams — without falling out of the competition for a spot in the postseason.
Luol Deng got to pad his stats against Indy's "defense."
I guess you could say this game was a little up and down.
The Bulls won the first quarter 37-18 and appeared to be on their way to a comfy-cozy win. Then the Pacers won the second quarter 36-21 to make it a game again. Chicago came out of halftime and won the third quarter 37-28 to regain a solid double-digit advantage. They maintained that lead for most of the fourth quarter, but Indiana made a late run and pulled to within eight points with 1:14 to go, forcing Vinny Del Negro to re-insert Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson for mop-up duty.
On the one hand, the Bulls held the Pacers to 40 percent shooting, which makes it seem as though their defense was pretty solid. However, Indy’s Effective Field Goal Percentage was closer to 50 thanks to their three-point marksmanship (13-for-29) and near-perfect foul shooting (25-for-27). The Pacers scored 110 points in 106 possessions.
Indiana sure is a strange team. They hit only 42 percent (15-for-35) of their shots at the rim and went 0-for-12 from 16-to-23 feet. But they drilled 44 percent of their treys and couldn’t miss from the line. Okay, maybe that only strikes me as odd. But obviously the three-point shot is what keeps them in — or, if you think about it, out — of games. It helped kinda-sorta keep them in this one.
But the Bulls prevailed. And the victory bumped Chicago’s record to 30-27. If you enjoy simple math, they are 20-10 since starting the season 10-17. Which, as I’ve stated before, is pretty good considering all the injuries, drama and personnel changes that have gone down in the past few months.
I’m still not sure what to make of this team. By the numbers– specifically, defensive rating — their best two defensive players this season have been Tyrus Thomas and JoakimNoah. Only Thomas is gone. Meanwhile, Noah is dragging around a bum foot, and he’s averaging less than 10 minutes per game since his return (he played seven minutes last night against the Pacers). Meanwhile, Hakim Warrick has admitted to being confused by Chicago’s defensive system.
These factors could help explain why the Bulls have given up 211 points in their last two games, which feels a little worse when you consider the level of their competition. Looking ahead to the next five games, I see one road game versus the Pacers and then four home games against the Trail Blazers (34-26), Hawks (36-20), Grizzlies (29-28) and Mavericks (37-21).
I’m not trying to be overly negative. I’m totally stoked about how well Chicago has been playing (in general) over the last 30 games. But whenever a 23-point lead gets shaved down to only four, well, it’s a cause for at least some concern. Especially for a team that gave up a 35-point lead earlier this season.
The Bulls don’t always have a killer instinct. They can occasionally have stretches of bad decision-making and miscues (they gave up 21 points off 17 turnovers last night). And, as I pointed out, their defense is currently facing a (minor) identity crisis.
Still…the Bulls have won seven of their last nine games despite significant doubt and player turnover. Their currently sixth in the East and not that far out of fifth. So maybe it’s worth taking a deep sigh of relief for the moment.
The best part about facing a porous defensive team like the Pacers — they’re 24th in PPG allowed (104.1) — is that players get to pad their stats against them.
To wit: Deng scored a game-high 31 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. Derrick Rose almost had a triple-double (23 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists). Gibson had a double-double (14 points, 11 boards) and 3 blocked shots. Hinrich finished with 14 points and 5 assists while shooting 6-for-8 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown.
Flip Murray added 16 points off the bench to go with 6 boards and 3 steals while going 8-for-10 from the line.
Power of the Paint:
Chicago outrebounded the Pacers 46-38 andhad a 27.9 to 17.0 advantage in Offensive Rebound Percentage. Furthermore, the Bulls had 10 blocked shots and outscored Indy 38-32 in the paint.
1st timeout: Rose was fouled before the timeout
2nd timeout: Hinrich missed 17-footer
3rd timeout: Called after Rose turned the ball over
4th timeout: Gibson turnover (offensive foul)
5th timeout: Murray drew a foul (2-for-2)
6th timeout: Murray missed 22-footer
I was recently asked to provide a little more information about what exactly happens out of each timeout. For instance, what kind of shot did the Bulls get (wide open versus contested), whether a turnover was the result of a busted play, etc. The reason I’m not doing that is because I’m more interested in the end result free of that level of analysis. This is because the assumption is that a team should be the most prepared and get the highest percentage shots following a timeout.
That said, I’ll give it some thought and consider delving deeper in the future.
Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder went 23-59. That was the fourth-worst record in the entire NBA, ahead of only the Kings (17-65), Clippers (19-63) and Wizards (19-65). As of last night’s win over the Bulls in the United Center, the Thunder are 19-15.
What many people may not yet realize about this young squad is that they have become a top-notch defensive unit. Seriously. They rank 9th in Forced Turnovers Per Game (15.3), 8th in Defensive Efficiency (101.3 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions), and 4th in Blocked Shots Per Game (6.0). Moreover, their opponents convert only 59 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the 9th best mark in the league, which is especially impressive since their opponents attempt the fourth-most shots at the rim per game (29.4).
I bring all this up because the Thunder won last night because they shut the Bulls down in the second half, holding them to only 33 points in the final 24 minutes. The key was the third quarter, when Oklahoma City outscored Chicago 32-14. And they did that by protecting the rim. Like, with a vengeance. The Bulls were getting into the paint at will, but they could not convert. Chicago missed an astonishing 13 layups and tip shots in that third quarter, five of which were blocked.
And make no mistake: every missed layup seemed to suck the life out of the Bulls, especially on defense. They were a step slow in their rotations, and the Thunder made them pay for it. Rookie James Harden drilled three three-pointers in a three-minute stretch that spanned the end of the fourth quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Those were game-breakers. Chicago was down only 70-62 before Harden hit his first triple. By the time he knocked down number three, the Bulls were behind 82-66.
That may as well have been the game. The Bulls are not good enough offensively — 29th in Offensive Efficiency — to play catchup against good defensive teams, especially when they’re rattled. And the Thunder’s defense definitely had them rattled. Plus, Oklahoma City made every hustle play in the second half. By the numbers, the Bulls had a huge advantage on the offensive boards (25-13), but the Thunder grabbed nine of their offensive rebounds in the second half. And every one of them was significant.
The Bulls also got next to nothing out of their bench. Chicago’s reserves scored only 12 points on 5-for-27 shooting. Tyrus Thomas returned to form, going 3-for-12 from the field. Nine of his shots were jumpers, and seven of them were 16-23 feet away from the basket. At one point, he tried to make a complicated one-on-one move and got picked clean by Nick Collison.
In the final analysis, the Bulls simply got outplayed, outhustled and shut down defensively by a better team. And, for all the fun of that four-game win streak, it’s pretty clear they are still very much a work in progress.
Former Bull Factor:
You may remember Thabo Sefolosha as the player who almost got DNP-CD’d out of the league as a token member of the Bulls. But his career has been revived in Oklahoma City, and last night he had a nice little revenge game against his former team: 7 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots, and some amped up defense against D-Rose in what turned out to be the decisive third quarter. Sefolosha held Rose to 0-for-4 shooting in that quarter, which completely disrupted Chicago’s offense.
TrueHoop Network: Royce of Daily Thunder: “If I weren’t looking at the score every six seconds, I would have thought Oklahoma City trailed by at least 15 points in the third quarter. Chicago was absolutely pounded the Thunder on the glass (11 offensive rebounds in the third quarter) and just appeared to be abusing OKC. But the Thunder was actually ahead four. And actually had complete control of the game. In the second half, the Thunder held the Bulls to just 33 points. That’s 14 in the third, 19 in the fourth. Meanwhile, OKC scored 51 in the second half. That right there people, is a good formula to winning.”