Looking back at this game, it’s hard to figure out what was worse: Chicago’s defense or offense.
The Spurs — who are without the services of All-Star point guard Tony Parker — connected on eight of their 14 three-point attempts (57 percent), converted better than 54 percent of their field goal attempts overall, and scored at a rate of 116.4 points per 100 possessions. They also ran out for 22 fast break points and had a 46-22 advantage in points in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Bulls — despite hitting 45 percent of their threes (9-for-20) and committing only 8 turnovers — shot 36.7 percent overall and scored at a rate of 95.7 points per 100 possessions. They had a 14-5 edge in offensive rebounds but lost the overall rebounding battle 47-41…which is usually what happens when a team can’t hit and their opponent can’t miss.
Of course — not to make excuses — how much can you expect from a team missing their superstar (Derrick Rose), two starters (Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton) and their top reserve (Taj Gibson)?
It’s difficult to tell this from the final score, but the Bulls actually played reasonably well during the first 24 minutes. In the first half, they were 6-for-11 from three-point range and led by as many as 14 points.
But from the moment Marquis Teague — who knocked down the first three three-pointers of his career — put the Bulls ahead 46-32, things started to happen. Bad things.
Manu Ginobili hit one of those classic “released so quickly the defender couldn’t react” threes he’s known for. Then Marco Belinelli missed a layup. Then Kawhi Leonard got an easy dunk on the other rend. Then Jimmy Butler missed a layup. San Antonio’s Cory Joseph also missed a layup, but Tim Duncan got the offensive rebound and scored. Carlos Boozer missed an ugly 19-footer and Leonard got another easy layup going the other way. Suddenly it was 46-41.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called timeout, but it was too late. The damage was done. The momentum had shifted. And although Chicago entered halftime with a 52-47 lead, you could sense disaster coming.
And it came.
In the second half, the Bulls shot 13-for-43 (30 percent) and got outscored 54-31, including 29-15 in the fourth quarter. The Spurs increased their defense pressure and (especially) their physicality, and the Bulls were helpless to respond. San Antonio bumped and pushed the Bulls out of the paint. According to Hoopdata, Belinelli and Deng were 7-for-8 at the rim, but the rest of the team went 3-for-13…including a combined 2-for-8 for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
Actually, things started going poorly for Noah after a second-half dust-up with Duncan. The two big men started jawing with each other, and as everybody knows, it’s not wise to jaw with Timmy D. In his latest (and hopefully last) autobiography, Shaq Uncut: My Story, Shaquille O’Neal said that he was never able to rattle Duncan no matter how hard he tried.
Said Shaq: “The Spurs won because of Tim Duncan, a guy I could never break. I could talk trash to Patrick Ewing, get in David Robinson’s face, get a rise out of Alonzo Mourning, but when I went at Tim he’d look at me like he was bored and then say, “Hey, Shaq, watch this shot right here off the glass.”
Sure enough, Noah went scoreless in the second half — missing a couple long jumpers and several layups — while Duncan (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocked shots) went about doing Tim Duncan things: scoring, rebounding, disrupting Chicago’s offense with timely plays or by simply being there.
It’s an important lesson for everybody. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Don’t shoot a bear in the butt with a bb gun. And don’t piss off Tim Duncan.
So the Bulls were overpowered and blown out, much as they were against the league’s other “best teams,” the Heat and Thunder. Simply put, Chicago isn’t on an even playing field right now. Thibs might not like hearing that, but it’s true.
The ongoing absence of Rose and the on-again, off-again status of Kirk Hinrich has absolutely killed Chicago’s offense, which is currently ranked 25th in efficiency…below teams like the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings.
My point is: This offense is terrible. Players are struggling. The Bulls don’t have a single player hitting 50 percent of his shots. According to Basketball-Reference, Chicago is 25th in field goal percentage (.436) and 28th in effective field goal percentage (.466).
The offense is flawed. The Bulls don’t take (29th in attempts) or make (29th in makes) many three-pointers. Per Hoopdata, they’re eighth in attempts at the rim per game (26.6) but only 18th in field goal percentage at the rim (63.7). They are fourth in field goal attempts from 16-23 feet (23.1) — the inefficient long two-pointer known as “the worst shot in basketball” — but they are only 20th in field goal percentage from that range (36.3).
According to TeamRankings, the Bulls are 24th in fast break points per game (10.1) and 26th in fast break efficiency (1.370 points per fast break). They’re also 17th in turnovers per offensive play and 23rd in team turnovers per possession.
To sum up: The Bulls don’t convert a high rate of their shots at the rim, take a large quantity of long two-pointers while making a low percentage of them, barely attempt any threes, don’t get many transition baskets, turn the ball over at a high rate, and don’t get many free throw attempts.
In other words, there is virtually nothing this team does well offensively, and almost every player is having one of the worst shooting seasons of their career as a direct result of that.
Said Thibs: “You can’t hold on to the ball. The ball has to move side to side. They’re too good defensively. In the second half we settled; we took some poor shots. With the depth that they have, they’re going to make you pay.”
Yeah, I see what you’re saying, coach. But this isn’t a one-night thing,and it’s not as simple as guys holding the ball too long. Everything about this offense is broken and has been all season.
Thibs continued: “We got to be more competitive. We got to compete out there, we got to be into the body, we got to be disciplined and we got to get things done defensively. You allow a team to shoot 54 percent or whatever, that’s not good.”
I agree that the Spurs sliced and diced Chicago’s defense. But they do that. And frankly, it’s much easier to get on a roll offensively when your opponent isn’t putting up any fight whatsoever on the other end.
A very, very bummed Noah said: “That’s a championship team right there. They do all the little things. Play together, defensively, everybody’s on the same page. They make very little mistakes. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
That’s the kind of team the Bulls were the past two seasons. And even the team they were earlier this season. But there are too many injuries and the main guys are playing too many minutes. The Bulls don’t have the personnel or the offense to compete on a level playing field against the better teams. And even some of the not-so-better teams.
It is what it is, as they said.
Said Boozer: “We’re super short-handed. If we have our full lineup the game is different. You’ve got to remember, we’re playing without three of our best players. Not to make any excuses, but the facts are the facts. Reality is what it is. We’re OK. Got to get home, get a win on Friday and keep moving.”