That’s what happened to the Bulls last night in Philadelphia.
The 76ers showed no fear and little respect for a Chicago team that’s supposed to be one of the league’s true title contenders. They played smothering defense, holding the Bulls to 43 percent shooting and forcing 17 turnovers.
What’s more, Philly earned 29 points off those turnovers, many of which came easily in transition. To wit: The Sixers finished with 21 fast break points.
Philly also outrebounded the Bulls 43-37 and posted an Offensive Rebound Rate of 27.5 percent. That last stat is meaningful because the 76ers currently rank 29th in ORR at 22.4.
Mind you: The Bulls rank first in the league in Total Rebounding Rate.
Even worse, the Sixers posted a fantastic Offensive Efficiency of 108.9, even better than their season average of 104.4.
Mind you: The Bulls rank second in the league in Defensive Efficiency at 94.5.
Finally and perhaps most damning of all, the Sixers finished 17 of their 19 field goal attempts at the rim. That’s a conversion rate of 89.5 percent. Which is a large part of why they outscored the Bulls 46-28 in the paint.
Mind you: The Bulls rank second in the league in defending shots at the rim, with their opponents normally converting only 57.5 percent of their attempts in that zone (according to Hoopdata).
My point is this: The 76ers beat the Bulls to loose balls. Beat them to rebounds. Shut them down on defense while executing on offense at a better-than-normal rate, especially in close proximity to the hoop.
Playing poorly and losing is one thing. Being so thoroughly outperformed is another.
Sure, you could point to the absences of Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton, not one but two of the team’s starters. And you could also point to the fact that the Bulls have been playing undermanned all season.
But that doesn’t explain why other teams are playing harder and clearly want it more.
Yes, I said teams, as in plural. This isn’t the first time an opponent has shown more pure desire to win than the Bulls. It happened back on January 7 in Atlanta. And January 16 in Memphis. It happened at home last week against the Pacers. And it happened last night in Philadelphia.
Said Derrick Rose: “We played a messed-up game.”
Added Joakim Noah: “We were a step slow tonight. [It’s] disappointing. It was a big game. I wish we could have it back.”
If wishes were fishes, the world would be an ocean, Jo.
Speaking of Noah reminds me…Rose (18 points) was the only starter to reach double figures. Carlos Boozer finished with 9 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Kyle Korver also had only 9 points despite logging 37 minutes. Ronnie Brewer scored 6 while going 3-for-8. Joakim managed only 2 points and didn’t convert a single field goal (0-for-3).
That’s not the kind of production the Bulls need from their starters. Not surprisingly, Boozer, Noah and Rose spent the fourth quarter handing out Gatorade and towels in team huddles.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “I thought our starters were so lethargic in the third. Quite honestly, if we had gotten it closer I was going to finish with [the reserves]. With the group that we had in there. Because they were fighting to get us out of the hole.”
Of course, Brewer and Korver are starters only because injury has forced them into that role. Not only do the Bulls miss Deng, and Hamilton I suppose, but starting Kyle and Ronnie weakens the bench, which is one of Chicago’s great strengths.
Still, none of that explains the lack of focus and intensity.
Said Rose: “[There’s] no excuses. We’ve still got to go out there and play these games and put forth the effort. And tonight it was clear that we didn’t. … We were out there sluggish. The energy wasn’t there. I really can’t explain it.”
It’s something Rose and the rest of the Bulls need to figure out.