The subtitle of this game should be: The Night that Offense Died.
The Pacers shot 36 percent from the field, went 2-for-10 from three-point range, missed seven free throws…and won.
Chicago’s defense made Indiana’s offense look terrible — outside of Paul George — but The Bulls’ offense offset that. Big time.
The Bulls shot 38.4 percent and scored only 76 points at home against a division rival.
If you were wondering whether the Bulls were going to miss Rip Hamilton’s 13.9 points per game — not to mention his ability to move without the ball and keep opposing defenses off balance — the answer is a resounding yes.
Give credit to the Pacers’ D. They were physical. They had active hands. They contested every shot.
However, the Bulls also played poorly, by there standards or any other. The spacing was poor, which led to several turnovers on their interior passes. Speaking of which…
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers:
As mind-numbingly awful as the Bulls were shooting, they probably would have won this game if they’d been able to take care of the basketball. They committed 19 turnovers for 23 points going the other way, which is a large reason why Indiana enjoyed a 14-11 edge in fast break points.
When you consider the Pacers only managed to score 80 points, giving them 23 points off turnovers in a four-point loss is huge.
As I mentioned above, the Pacers were playing tough defense, so some of the turnovers were inevitable. However, others were committed due to poor spacing (which allowed the Pacers to deflect or intercept several interior passes), and still others occurred due to casual, lazy, sloppy passing.
When a team is getting after it on D the way Indiana was, players have to adjust and be extra careful with their passes. The Bulls were not. And they paid for it.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “It usually comes down to too much one-on-one or making a risky pass and not being aware of what is going on. If you’re dancing with the ball and trying to thread the ball, that will lead to turnovers.”
Even with the lousy shooting and careless ball handling, the Bulls still might have eked out a win if they’d taken care of the glass. The Pacers pulled down 16 offensive rebounds. Add that to Chicago’s 19 turnovers, and that’s a lot of extra possessions to give an opposing team in a close game.
And, frankly, some of those lost rebounds were indefensible.
In the first quarter, after George Hill missed a three-pointer, Paul George waltzed in uncontested for a put back dunk. Later the Pacers stole an offensive rebound after a missed free throw, which shouldn’t happen at the high school level, let alone in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Bulls managed only 6 points off of their 13 offensive boards as the Pacers repeatedly denied them in the paint and around the basket.
Imposing His Will:
The way George played last night, it’s hard to believe he scored zero points on 0-for-7 shooting against the Golden State Warriors in Indiana’s last game.
He was utterly dominant against the Bulls, scoring a season-high 34 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots.
Four of his rebounds were on the offensive end.
George hit from everywhere. He hit when he was open. He hit when he was covered. He hit tough shots while fading, leaning, or otherwise falling away from the hoop. Nobody on the Bulls could do anything with him, not even Luol Deng.
Speaking of which, George put some D on Luol, who scored 17 but shot only 5-for-15 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. One of those TOs came in the third quarter when George stripped Deng clean then took it coast-to-coast for a fast break layup.
Watching George almost single-handedly win this one had to have Bulls fans thinking wistfully: “Hey, we used to have a guy like that.”
Derrick Rose is missed. Badly.
Good Nate and Bad Nate:
There is no question that Nate Robinson — who scored a team-high 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench — helped keep the Bulls in this game with his energy and offense.
Nate’s shooting was streaky as usual — he went 2-for-7 from downtown — but he was also the only Chicago player who consistently found his way to the basket. He hit a couple very tough layups and earned several fouls, going 7-for-7 from the line.
Unfortunately, he finished with more turnovers (4) than assists (1) and made several late game blunders that cost the Bulls. He forced a couple quick shots and committed two costly (and rather careless) turnovers in the final minutes. Not surprisingly, Thibodeau pulled Robinson immediately after his final turnover, which happened with 57 seconds left and the Bulls down 76-74.
Bulls fans are coming to realize this is life with Nate Robinson. He’s going to bring wild enthusiasm and explosive bursts of scoring. And he’s going to make mistakes. Not that I’m pinning the loss on him. Not at all. But his crunch time mistakes were definitely part of the team’s losing formula last night.
To his credit, Nate shows some self awareness after the game: “We’ve got to take care of the ball down the stretch. I definitely take the blame for this one. I’ve got to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays and got to execute.”
Outside of Robinson, the reserves didn’t provide much in the way of points. Jimmy Butler scored 4 points and Nazr Mohammed chipped in another 2 points. That was it. Taj Gibson — who is shooting a miserable 41.7 percent this season — went 0-for-5 and didn’t score.
That said, Butler grabbed 9 rebounds and Gibson had 7. And the bench had much better plus-minus numbers than the starters:
Carlos Boozer had a reasonably solid night: 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. He even played decent defense against David West, Indiana’s leading scorer, who went only 3-for-12 from the field.
Unfortunately, he missed a critical free throw that would have pulled the Bulls to within a point with 37 seconds left.
Late Game Offense:
Down 78-74 with 42 seconds left, the Bulls ran a nifty play in which a Noah hit a cutting Boozer for a layup and the foul (although, as noted, Boozer blew the freebie). This was a much better idea than letting one of the Bulls isolate and try to create a shot on his own.
Similarly, down 78-76 with 14 ticks on the clock, Noah fed Deng, who had just made a great backdoor cut and looked poised to either dunk the ball or draw a foul. Unfortunately…
…Indiana’s Roy Hibbert was there to meet him. Hibbert jumped into the air, arms straight up, and made an awful lot of contact with the soaring Deng. Deng went down. The ball was lost. As was any chance the Bulls had of winning the game.
Said Thibs: “In my eyes, he got wiped out. I did not get an explanation. He had a layup. It was a train wreck.”
Added Deng: “I got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled. I haven’t seen it yet. … Mad at myself that I didn’t get a shot. When he contacted me, I should have … If I got a shot up even if I missed it I think a teammate could have got the rebound. That’s the one I think I got to do better with, that play.”
The Pacers, obviously, disagreed.
Said Indiana coach Frank Vogel: “He is the best in the league in exercising verticality. That is what earns him no calls. If you can jump straight up and absorb the contact, you are not going to have the call called. Once he learned that and tried to take charges, he became one of the best bigs in the league.”
Added Hibbert: “During the summer, I stayed in Indiana and worked with the coaches on defense — just playing without fouling and blocking shots without fouling. If I jump straight up in my spot, I will get that call. If you jump forward and you come down, they’ll call a foul. I’ve been working on that for the past couple years and I try to make sure I defend the rim without fouling.”
The no-call didn’t cost the Bulls the game. Their godawful shooting, careless passing and poor defensive rebounding were bigger issues. But it was a tough moment, and it’s hard to image that call not going the way of a superstar player.
Rough Night for Noah:
Jo didn’t have a night to remember: 9 points, 4-for-9, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 5 turnovers. He was working hard but often found himself getting out-scrapped by the scrappier Pacers. And his frustration was pretty evident.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether Noah is the best center in the East…but I actually don’t think he’s having the kind of season he should be having.
Yes, he’s averaging a career-high 13 points per game, but he’s also shooting a career-worst 47 percent from the field. He’s also hitting only 53.6 percent of his shots at the rim despite converting at a rate of almost 60 percent last season. His rebounding average (9.8) is identical to last year’s despite the fact that he’s playing almost nine more minutes per game.
In fact, despite a spike in Usage Percentage (up to 17.3 from 15.8 last season), he has suffered declines in Defensive Rebounding Percentage (down to 17.2 from 21.8 last season), Offensive Rebounding Percentage (down to 11.4 from 14.1) and of course Total Rebounding Percentage (down to 14.4 from 18.0). And all of those marks are significantly below his career numbers of 22.2, 13.5 and 17.9, respectively.
There’s more. His Turnover Percentage is currently 18.0, which is way up from last season’s career-best mark of 13.7. His Player Efficiency Rating is 17.7 (down from a career-high 19.6 last season) and his Win Shares Per 48 Minutes is .158 (down from a career-best .223 last season).
My point is this: Noah’s raw stats — 13.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.3 BPG, 1.4 SPG — may make it appear as if he’s having a career year. But he’s not. He’s really not. He’s logging more minutes…but playing less efficiently.