There haven’t been very many times this season — especially recently — when the Bulls have failed on defense. Unfortunately, it happened last night.
The Pacers scored 115 points. That’s the fourth-highest point total the Bulls have surrendered this season, ranking behind only the 116 points they gave up to the Rockets in an overtime win on December 4, the 118 points they surrendered in Toronto in Joakim Noah’s first game back from thumb surgery on February 23, and the 120 points the Knicks scored in the United Center way back on November 4 (thanks to a flurry of three-point shooting).
Indy scored 31 points in each of the first two quarters in route to a 62-point first half. They Pacers had 89 points by the end of the third quarter. Mind you, the Bulls had held their opponents to 89 points or less in 12 of their last 13 full games. So there’s no way the Pacers — who rank 24th in Offensive Rating — should have been scoring so easily.
Sure, Chicago held Indiana to 13 points in the fourth quarter and managed to force overtime…but the damage had been done.
Now, you may be tempted to give the Bulls credit for holding the Pacers to 43 percent shooting. And, admittedly, they did a credible job of contesting jump shots. Indy went 19-for-60 on jumpers (31.6 percent) and 5-for-13 on three-pointers (38.5 percent). But — and you knew there was a “but” coming, right? — the Pacers hit 18 of their 25 layup attempts (72 percent) and threw down three dunks (according to this shot chart).
So, essentially, they converted 75 percent of their shots at the rim.
The Pacers also earned 35 foul shots. That’s the sixth-most free throw attempts the Bulls have given up this season. Indy knocked down 30 of those freebies.
Furthermore, the Bulls had no answer for Tyler Hansbrough. “Pyscho T” had team-highs in points (29) and rebounds (12) while shooting 12-for-19 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Hansbrough was just straight up outworking people. At one point, with just over three minutes left in regulation, Indiana’s Darren Collison bricked a jumper and Hansbrough bolted from the other side of the floor, grabbed the offensive rebound, ran out to 17 feet and tossed in a jumper with nary a hand in his face.
Mind you, Hansbrough set back-to-back career highs against the Knicks last week. Granted, New York’s defense is horrible, but come on. Check out his game log: Hansbrough has scored 20 or more in six of his last seven games. Check out his splits: Hansbrough is averaging 20.2 PPG on 51.2 percent shooting over his last 11 games. This wasn’t some sort of “out of nowhere” performance.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “The only quarter we played defense was the fourth. “You usually get what you deserve.”
Thibs continued: “We’ve got to do a lot better. This is a step backwards. …You’ve got to get in the fray. If they’re going to make contact, then you’ve got to fight. And we didn’t do that until late. You can’t measure what you have to put into a game. You’ve got to go into the game thinking, ‘I’m putting everything I have into this,’ and then, I think when you wait around, and now all of a sudden you’re in a hole, so you’re fighting your way out of the whole, then you don’t have enough energy to finish it off in the end, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Not to give the Bulls any excuses, but they did look tired from the previous night’s win in New Jersey and appeared to be a step slow all night. The Pacers seemed to be a split-second quicker to loose balls and tap-outs. At times, everything seemed to be going Indiana’s way.
Chicago’s saving grace was Derrick Rose, who tied his career-high with 42 points. The Bulls entered the final quarter down 16 points, and when things looked absolutely hopeless, Rose took over. He scored 19 points in the final 7:18 of regulation. He hit two layups, a short jumper, a three-pointer and 10 free throw. The only other Bulls player to score in that stretch was Kurt Thomas, who went 1-for-2 at the free throw line after being fouled by Danny Granger.
It was an amazing performance…the kind that serves as a reminder of why Rose is an MVP candidate.
It also wasn’t enough.
And, if I’m going to be completely honest, Derrick’s big game has me kind of worried. It’s easy to overlook because he’s still putting up big numbers and the Bulls are winning, but Rose is in kind of a slump. Check the splits: Rose is shooting 39.6 percent from the field this month. If you check his splits from 2008-09 and 2009-10, you’ll notice that March of 2011 has been the worst shooting month of Derrick’s career (discounting his 39.1 percent October of 2009, which consisted of only two games).
Bottom line: Rose’s jumper is not falling.
Last night’s game was a perfect example. Rose went 9-for-11 on layups and 18-for-21 from the line. But he went 2-for-16 on jump shots, including 2-for-8 on his three-point attempts. And when you see box score lines like 11-for-27 from the field, 18-for-21 from the line, 2 assists and 4 turnovers from a superstar point guard…
…you see what I’m getting at?
Going back to Derrick’s splits, he’s averaging only 5.6 APG this month, which represents his worst assist month of the season. In fact, it’s his worst assist month since averaging 5.2 APG in February of 2010. Rose hasn’t had a double-digit assist game since March 2. He hasn’t reached his average since March 7. He dished total of 4 assists in back-to-back games against the Nets and Pacers.
I don’t think it’s all Derrick’s fault. Guys were ducking shots down the stretch last night. I’m serious. At one point, Rose drove, drew the double and dished to Kyle Korver…who didn’t take the shot and ended up passing the ball back to Rose. Bulls broadcaster Stacey King noticed this and (correctly) said that guys have to be ready to take those shots.
Then again, it’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation: Are Rose’s teammates deferring to him or are they out of rhythm because Rose is taking all the shots? When Rose fouled out in overtime, the Bulls looked completely discombobulated.
Despite his monster game, Rose was killing himself up after the game, specifically for not coming through in overtime: “That’s the time when I’m supposed to take over. And I didn’t show up. Tonight, I think my turnovers hurt the game. Plain and simple … no way I was supposed to turn that ball over in that clutch situation, and I did. I put that on me, man.” Rose also said he felt “beat up” and that he needed to “try harder.”
Wow. Go easy on yourself, there, Derrick.
This isn’t the end of the world. There are bright sides. First, the Celtics got blown out in Houston last night, so the Bulls are still tops in the East. Second, as painful as this game was, it’s very hard to win back-to-back road games on back-to-back nights against teams that are trying to claw their way into the playoffs. Especially when you’re without your second-leading scorer, as the Bulls were. I mean, as ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell points out, Noah was the last Bulls player other than Rose to make a field goal, and that came with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The problems with the defense, well, they’re going to take care of themselves. Thibs will see to that. These kinds of defensive lapses are aberrations with a great defensive team like the Bulls. But Derrick having to do everything on the offensive end, that cannot continue. And hopefully, Boozer — who has now missed five straight games — will be back soon and the offense can become a little more well-balanced.