The game was tied 104-104 with 18 seconds left.
With an entire offensive playbook at his disposal, what play did Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau call?
Said Carlos Boozer: “This is the play: Get the ball to D-Rose, and everybody else get out of the way. And it works every time.”
That’s a sentiment that has been repeatedly expressed about the league’s great players over the years. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. So on and so forth on down to Derrick Rose, who hit his very first walk-off buzzer-beater last night.
It was a great moment. The Bulls bench exploded. Rose’s teammates mobbed him. There were high-fives all around. The pro-Bulls contingent in the Milwaukee crowd started chanting “M-V-P!” It was almost enough to make you forget that the team’s shoddy defensive effort allowed Ersan Ilyasova to score a career-high 32 points on 14-for-18 shooting, and that Drew Gooden torched the Bulls for a season-high 27 points on 11-for-21 from the field.
Said Joakim Noah: “That shot was like a movie. Hit the shot, no time left on the clock. You saw the horn. The ball goes in the net. Man, that must be an unbelievable feeling to hit a shot like that. I’m happy he’s on our team.”
Added Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles: “What a luxury to have. You don’t even need to run a play. You can just bring it in, throw it to a guy and he can get whatever shot he wants. It was an incredibly tough shot to make.”
For the record, “incredibly tough” is an understatement.
Somewhat ironically, Henry Abbott just published two articles — one on TrueHoop and the other in ESPN the Magazine — that debunk the NBA’s greatest myth: That letting your best player isolate in crunch time is the best decision.
Abbott’s research shows that isolation plays are significantly less successful than any other kind of play that can be run. It also uncovered that this season’s Bulls squad ranks 28th in the league in Effective Field Goal Percentage in the final three minutes when trailing by 3 or less or tied (31.8 percent). Only the Bucks (28.3 percent) and Cavaliers (28.2 percent) are worse.
Abbott also provided a link to a blog post by Jordan Sams of Liberty Ballers that uses the Basketball-Reference Shot Finder to track various “clutch” statistics. Based on Sams’ research, Rose has shot 27.6 percent in the final minute of games over the course of his career. Rose’s percentage drops to 22.5 in the final 24 seconds. According to Sams’ charts, that puts Rose near the bottom of the list of the players who met his clutch shooting criteria (basically number of shots attempted).
Presumably, this suggests that Rose’s game-winner was an aberration. An example of a bad play that happened to work.
I’m not trying to be a killjoy or anything like that. I was pumped when the shot dropped. But in the split second between when Rose took the shot and when the ball dropped through the hoop, I managed to shout “bad shot.”
Remember: At that point, Rose was 7-for-21 from the field and 0-for-5 on threes. Logic dictated a different approach. Like maybe just running a play.
Again, I don’t want to take anything away from Rose’s heroics, but research (like what’s cited above) is pretty clear. Hero Ball doesn’t work consistently. It can be fool’s gold because of recall bias. You remember the clutch shots and game-winners, but you forget the clutch misses.
I was actually more impressed by Rose’s overall stat line than his final shot: 30 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block. He also went a perfect 14-for-14 from the line — including two in a row with 32 seconds left.
Said Rose: “I remember in Miami, the same situation, almost the same situation, where we were down one and [I was] missing both free throws. Just coming up here, I told you that was going to be in my mind, and [I] knocked them down. I think I was more happy that I hit them free throws than that last shot.”
Rose did that in spite of — or maybe partially because of — a small contingent of Bucks fans chanting “Overrated!”
Said Rose: “I try not to listen to it, man. I just try to go out there and play hard. They can cheer whatever they want to cheer. Of course, they’re going to cheer that because we’re on the road. And if anything, I just feed off of it.”
Even if Rose’s isos aren’t the best clutch plays, technically speaking, they certainly inspire a belief in his teammates that they always have a chance to win close games down the stretch. Which may be worth more than Rose’s actual percentages.
Said Noah: “It’s unbelievable. We need him in that situation. He wants the ball in that situation, and to be part of that, I know is special. It’s like a movie. I swear this kid is … he’s special. And everybody knows that. He wants the ball down the stretch. He doesn’t want the screen; he just wanted the ball in that situation. And I know his confidence is sky high right now.”
Speaking of Noah, his hot streak continued last night, and he finished with 20 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go with 10 rebounds (6 offensive). Boozer added 15 points on 7-for-13 from the field, Deng chipped in with 12 points while going 5-for-8 (including a huge trey with just under two minutes left), and Taj Gibson had a near double-double (10 points and 7 boards) off the bench.
It was a good team offensive effort as the Bulls shot 52 percent and finished with an Offensive Rating of 121.5. Unfortunately, Milwaukee had an Offensive Rating of 119.2. Considering the Bucks’ season average is 103.2 and the Bulls’ Defensive Rating this season is 97.9, it’s safe to say the defense could use a little tinkering before tonight’s match-up with the Orlando Magic.