Adjusments will be the key to Game 4

During the regular season, the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks ranked 12th and 13th in Defensive Rating. They were also eighth and 12th in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage.

The Miami Heat ranked fifth and fourth in those categories.

During this year’s playoffs, the Heat rank third in Defensive Rating, trailing only the first place (but eliminated) Orlando Magic and the second place Bulls.

Clearly, Miami is the best defensive team Chicago has faced this postseason.

And it shows.

In Game 1, despite winning by 21 points, the Bulls shot only 43.7 percent. The lopsided victory was due to their 19 offensive rebounds and 31 second-chance points.

In Game 2, they shot 34.1 percent and scored only 10 points in the fourth quarter.

In Game 3, the Heat held them to 41.6 percent shooting.

Miami’s defensive intensity — combined with what I’m guessing is the feeling that the series is slipping or has already slipped beyond their control — has the Bulls frustrated. Keith Bogans had words with Dwyane Wade. For reasons unknown, Taj Gibson was talking trash to a red-hot Chris Bosh in Game 3. Joakim Noah, as well all know, made some very unfortunate comments to a courtside fan.

This is new territory for a group of players who were characterized by such strong composure all season. From outside the locker room, it seems like the pressure is getting to them.

At the very least, the defensive pressure has gotten to Derrick Rose, who has been disappearing in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, with everything on the line, the Heat’s swarming, trapping, double-teaming defense repeatedly forced Rose to give up the ball. In those final 12 minutes, he attempted only two shots and didn’t make a single trip to the line.

As ESPNChicago’s Jon Greenberg writes:

Rose’s salad days of the regular season are a distant memory, as they should be. But it’s tough to forget how clutch he was “way back when.”

For instance, he finished the season as the second-best “clutch” scorer in the league, according to 82games.com, averaging 47.8 points per 48 minutes in “clutch situations,” which are defined as the last five minutes of regulation or overtime, with neither team ahead by more than five points.

No one is exactly sure why Rose isn’t dominating late in games right now, but it’s not hard to guess. It has a lot to do with the quality of competition. Rose faced double-teams, blitzes, whatever, all season, but now he’s facing long, athletic, focused players, led by the Heat’s big three, who are taking turns helping out or guarding him.

Let’s just say Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford weren’t exactly ideal sparring partners to get him ready for the Heat.

I hate to say it, but something like this was nearly inevitable. The Bulls were roughly average on offense for most of the season. They finished ranked 11th in Offensive Rating, but they still suffered through brutal offensive droughts because the system relied so heavily on Rose’s ability to create offense through dribble penetration.

When the Pacers limited that, the Bulls struggled.

When the Hawks limited that, the Bulls struggled.

When he Heat limit that, the Bulls are really, really struggling.

So what can they do?

In his article, Greenberg mentioned that “Rose agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that they should run more isolation-style plays for him, be they on the top of the key or from a wing. In a perfect world, you put Luol Deng and Kyle Korver in the corners and Carlos Boozer in the low block to push help defenders off the ball, and Rose is off to the races.”

Added Rose: “That would be great. I think like more step-ups, things like that, more isolation-type things instead of double-teaming all the time.”

The Bulls have to try something, because the pick and roll isn’t working, either because the teammate setting the pick (often Joakim Noah) isn’t a threat to score or because the double is coming from an athletic, long-armed opponent like Bosh or James. The situation demands Rose pull back and pass the ball…at which point everything stalls.

Mind you, Noah was, at times, able to receive a pass and then make another quick pass for a score. But, as Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook pointed out, the Heat figured out what Jo was doing and shut it down. It hurts that Noah seems afraid to take short jumpers. Without that minor mid-range threat, the Heat can adjust and negate his offensive contributions.

Meanwhile, LeBron James is doing a number on Luol Deng and there’s no telling whether Carlos Boozer can repeat his strong offensive performance from Game 3.

Which puts much of the responsibility back on Derrick’s shoulders.

What can he do against a defense that knows stopping him is the key to closing out the Bulls?

Said Rose: “It’s something I’ve been experiencing through the whole playoffs. Every series, people have been trying to do that, and I’ve found a way. I think [tonight] will be a different game.”

It has better be.

My question is: How will it be different? For all his success this season, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t made all that many innovations in the team’s offense. Will he create more isolations for Rose, as described above? Try more inside-outside play, focusing on Boozer and Noah in the post, with Rose, Deng, Bogans, etc., spotting up and moving without the ball? Will the Bulls simply keep “doing what they do” and hope to do it better?

More than anything else, the NBA playoffs are about adjustments. After getting spanked in Game 1, the Heat put a greater focus on protecting the boards. They won the rebounding battle in Game 2. Chicago outrebounded Miami in Game 3, but their offensive rebounding didn’t make the impact it had in the series opener.

What adjustments will the Bulls make tonight? Because they may well decide the series.

Update! ESPN’s John Hollinger has two suggestions: Play Gibson and Boozer together, relegating Noah to reserve minutes, and/or go with a small lineup when Boozer is out of the game (Rose, Deng, Korver, Brewer, and either Noah or Gibson). I’m fine with these suggestions.

11 Responses to Adjusments will be the key to Game 4

  1. Inception May 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I doubt we’ll see game-changing adjustments…Thibs strikes me as a stubborn/”my way or the highway” kinda coach….if we win tonight, it’ll be due to fundamentals……HITTING JUMPSHOTS AND LAYUPS!

  2. doubleaccord@gmail.com'
    Tony C. May 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    I agree completely with the premise of this post: offensive adjustments are the key to any hopes the Bulls have to win this game (and the series).

    They could try isolations, and they could also pull the pick-and-roll plays to a much higher point on the court (much like what Skiles does with Jennings). That would make it much more difficult for the Miami bigs to defend Rose tightly, and open up the floor.

    Most importantly to my mind, though perhaps least likely in reality, Gibson should be used as a focal point in the low post. His post play has been very good in recent weeks, though he is rarely used in that capacity. He is the only Bull big who can consistently finish around the rim against Miami, and using him down low could well put foul pressure on Bosh. Boozer and Noah have been ineffective in the post, and it’s time to give Gibson a shot.

  3. Bulls May 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Still somewhat surprising that we haven’t seen Big Sexy in this series. He sets a mean pick and has the ability to take that mid-range jumper if he rolls off. He’s got confidence and he doesn’t hesitate (ie. Boozer). We should hope to see KT, especially with Asik’s ailing leg injury. Word.

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    Sean D May 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    The thought people have floated out there saying Thibs should play Butler is absurd, this is a guy who hasn’t played in anything more than garbage time other than the last game of the year against NJ. But one pretty blatant adjustment he can make is giving Kurt “Big Sexy” Thomas some minutes. The Miami defense will have to respect his ability to hit the free-throw line extended jumper in the pick and roll game with Rose and he can D up a Haslem or Joel Anthony just as well if not better than Boozer.

    If Thibs doesn’t give Kurt some minutes tonight I would be very surprised.

  5. doubleaccord@gmail.com'
    Tony C. May 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    One more point. As I’ve suggested in previous posts, Thibs is obviously far less developed – to phrase it kindly – as an offensive coach, as he is a defensive coach. The Bulls are paying the price for that imbalance against a very strong defensive team in Miami.

    The only likely way to survive the series is for Thibs to break out of his predictable offensive patterns. Whatever he does may not work, but it is quite clear that something different needs to be tried.

    I’m actually also on board with those who argue that Butler should be given a shot. He is fresh, and while statistically not a great shooter, he can get hot, and hit threes. I’m not suggesting that he should start, but it is entirely possible that he could help to provide an offensive spark, even in limited minutes.

  6. The Rock May 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Agreed with Tony C.

    Boozer 26 point was good but not enough. I am tired of seeing him be so slow on defense and so weak in the paint. He gets swatted in the paint, puts the ball down, loses it, he just looks weak. Taj is just aching to blow up and Kurt Thomas is an X Factor waiting to happen. I dont care how much Boozer makes, its about winning. Boozer will produce and is key on the boards, but just looks non existent when it matters the most.

  7. hellajax@gmail.com'
    BULL4EVER May 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    miami is not at all a solid defensive team, especially when Chicago has always been a solid defensive force all season and Chicago is playing defense even in this postseason series because they have not even given up 100 points to any opponent as of yet in this postseason.Chicago’s main problem for trailing 2-1 is that no one has been helping out D’Rose as of late like how everyone was helping him out in earlier rounds with Atlanta and Indiana.Chicago will still win this series, especially if everyone besides Rose start scoring points and start grabbing rebounds like they normally do all the time.It will be a total disappointment if Chicago does not get in the Finals but hey there is always next season and beyond and another thing, it took Jordan 7 years to win an NBA title and Rose is just in his 3rd season so he still has plenty to learn on how to win NBA titles,win big-time postseason games and hit hard after a loss like Jordan and Co. once used to do in the 90.s GO BULLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. hellajax@gmail.com'
    BULL4EVER May 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    My bad on Chicago never giving up 100 points to any of their opponent, the Bulls haven’t given up 100 points to miami, they’ve given up 100 points twice to Atlanta and both those games have been losses.We gotta even it tonight at 2 games apiece.GO BULLS!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. vassn17@gmail.com'
    Nick May 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Tony, there are only 240 minutes in an NBA game. There simply aren’t enough to spare for Butler. Korver is playing “limited minutes” and is about as great an offensive spark there is coming off the bench. Playing Butler instead of Brewer or Bogans is limiting the team’s defense. Not only are Ronnie and Keith above-average defenders and probably more skilled on that end, Rasaul has only been with the team since March and thus has less experience in Thib’s system.

    Although our offense needs to produce more, it’s not a matter of who is on the court; it’s playing to those players’ strengths, executing, making the right decisions, and making the open shot. The Eastern Conference Finals are not a time or place to “give someone a shot,” especially on a team that had the league’s best record with a consistent rotation since November.

  10. vassn17@gmail.com'
    Nick May 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Edit to above: 240 total minutes in an NBA game to split among entire team (5 players * 48 minutes = 240)

  11. doubleaccord@gmail.com'
    Tony C. May 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Nick –

    The fact is that many coaches, including those considered to be outstanding by most, shake things up now and then when their teams are struggling. Thibs needs to do that, as the players currently on the floor are, unfortunately, not getting the job done against the Heat.

    Thibs has stuck to his guns all season long, and I have been one of the few defenders of Bogans from the beginning. But there is little evidence that the same old song, with better execution, is going to crack the Heat defense at this stage.

    Butler may or may not be effective, but the (offensive) questions are looming large, and Thibs needs to come up with some creative answers.

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