The Cavaliers showed up at the United Center last night having lost 15 games in a row and 19 straight on the road. They left with a 16-game losing streak and are now one loss shy of setting a new franchise record for consecutive road losses. So, on the surface, it appears the Bulls took care of business.
But what the final score of this game doesn’t tell you is that Chicago built a 20-point lead (63-43) with 7:20 left in the third quarter and then watched that lead shrink to two points (77-75) with 4:37 left in the fourth.
Said Kyle Korver: “We just relaxed a little bit. Our energy level just wasn’t there for stretches during the game. We’ve got to get a little pep back in our step.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “Every team is good and the challenge for us is to be a 48-minute team. You have to learn to play tough with the lead and we didn’t do that. You usually get what you deserve in this league.”
Defense wasn’t a problem. Chicago limited the Cavs to 32.1 percent shooting and an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 35.7. For some perspective, the Milwaukee Bucks are the worst shooting team in the league, and they average a FGP of 42.2 and an eFG% of 45.5.
What’s more, the Bulls — who rank first in Opponents FGP (42.3), Opponents eFG% (45.8) and Defensive Rating (99.4) — have now held 15 of their last 16 opponents below 100 points. They’ve held eight of those opponents below 85 points and four of them below 80.
No, defense isn’t the problem, although the Cavaliers did grab 18 offensive rebounds and finished with an out-of-sight Offensive Rebound Percentage of 30.5.
The fact of the matter is, the Bulls are average to below average on offense. They currently rank 14th in FPG (46.0), 15th in 3P% (36.1), 17th in PPG (98.0) 19th in Offensive Rating (105.5) and a miserable 27th in FT% (72.0). And check this out:
Offensive Four Factors
Effective Field Goal Percentage: 49.5 (16th)
Turnover Percentage: 13.9 (20th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: 28.0 (7th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: 22.1 (20th)
So the only area in which the Bulls aren’t average or below average is in offensive rebounding.
Since they beat the Philadelphia 76ers by 45 points on December 21, Chicago has scored below 100 points 16 times in 18 games. They managed back-t0-back 100-point outings against the woeful Cavaliers and the defenseless Toronto Raptors. They’ve scored 95 points or less 12 times in those 18 games. They’ve scored 90 or below six times.
Last night, the Bulls finished with 92 points on 41.5 percent shooting. They had an eFG% of 47.0 and an Offensive Rating of 97.6. And this is where I have to point out that Cleveland ranks 24th in Opponents PPG (104.6), 29th in Opponents FGP (48.0), 30th in Opponents eFP% (53.6) and 28th in Defensive Rating (111.6).
Now, in all fairness, Joakim Noah hasn’t played since December 15. The Bulls have been forced to start the ancient Kurt Thomas at center ever since. Further compounding the problem is Keith Bogans’ offensive nonexistence (he has been hitting 43.5 percent of his treys in January…but he’s 2-for-8 inside the arc this month).
Here’s a factoid for you: In the 24 games that Noah played, the Bulls scored 100 or more points 10 times. In the 20 games he’s missed, Chicago has reached 100 points three times.
Even though Jo is the foundation of the team’s interior defense and helped prevent team’s like Cleveland from feasting on the offensive glass, his absence has had a much more dramatic effect on the team’s offense. Check out the team’s splits: The Bulls scored 102.2 PPG in November, 97.3 PPG in December (when Noah played only half the month) and now 94.6 PPG in this Jo-less January.
But wait, there’s more. Chicago averaged 12.2 ORB in November, 11.6 in December and 9.8 so far in January. They shot 47 percent in November, 46 percent in December and 45 percent this month.
The Bulls aren’t getting as many second chance points. They aren’t scoring as many points in transition. As a consequence of these two things, their FGP and PPG have been in steady decline despite the output of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng.
And none of this factors in Noah’s energy and intensity…or his desire to win every game.
Bottom line: The Bulls are struggling to score and maintain their energy for 48 minutes. In my opinion, that’s because they are missing an irreplaceable ingredient: Joakim Noah.