I guess you could say this game was a little up and down.
The Bulls won the first quarter 37-18 and appeared to be on their way to a comfy-cozy win. Then the Pacers won the second quarter 36-21 to make it a game again. Chicago came out of halftime and won the third quarter 37-28 to regain a solid double-digit advantage. They maintained that lead for most of the fourth quarter, but Indiana made a late run and pulled to within eight points with 1:14 to go, forcing Vinny Del Negro to re-insert Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson for mop-up duty.
On the one hand, the Bulls held the Pacers to 40 percent shooting, which makes it seem as though their defense was pretty solid. However, Indy’s Effective Field Goal Percentage was closer to 50 thanks to their three-point marksmanship (13-for-29) and near-perfect foul shooting (25-for-27). The Pacers scored 110 points in 106 possessions.
Indiana sure is a strange team. They hit only 42 percent (15-for-35) of their shots at the rim and went 0-for-12 from 16-to-23 feet. But they drilled 44 percent of their treys and couldn’t miss from the line. Okay, maybe that only strikes me as odd. But obviously the three-point shot is what keeps them in — or, if you think about it, out — of games. It helped kinda-sorta keep them in this one.
But the Bulls prevailed. And the victory bumped Chicago’s record to 30-27. If you enjoy simple math, they are 20-10 since starting the season 10-17. Which, as I’ve stated before, is pretty good considering all the injuries, drama and personnel changes that have gone down in the past few months.
I’m still not sure what to make of this team. By the numbers– specifically, defensive rating — their best two defensive players this season have been Tyrus Thomas and JoakimNoah. Only Thomas is gone. Meanwhile, Noah is dragging around a bum foot, and he’s averaging less than 10 minutes per game since his return (he played seven minutes last night against the Pacers). Meanwhile, Hakim Warrick has admitted to being confused by Chicago’s defensive system.
These factors could help explain why the Bulls have given up 211 points in their last two games, which feels a little worse when you consider the level of their competition. Looking ahead to the next five games, I see one road game versus the Pacers and then four home games against the Trail Blazers (34-26), Hawks (36-20), Grizzlies (29-28) and Mavericks (37-21).
To put it bluntly, Chicago is going to have to play better — and I mean mostly on the defensive end – to keep their hot streak going. This is going to be a tough stretch. Even that Pacers game could be tougher than it looks on paper. After all, the Bulls are only 4-17 in Indiana since Conceco Field House opened in 1999. That place is a Bulls graveyard.
I’m not trying to be overly negative. I’m totally stoked about how well Chicago has been playing (in general) over the last 30 games. But whenever a 23-point lead gets shaved down to only four, well, it’s a cause for at least some concern. Especially for a team that gave up a 35-point lead earlier this season.
The Bulls don’t always have a killer instinct. They can occasionally have stretches of bad decision-making and miscues (they gave up 21 points off 17 turnovers last night). And, as I pointed out, their defense is currently facing a (minor) identity crisis.
Still…the Bulls have won seven of their last nine games despite significant doubt and player turnover. Their currently sixth in the East and not that far out of fifth. So maybe it’s worth taking a deep sigh of relief for the moment.
The best part about facing a porous defensive team like the Pacers — they’re 24th in PPG allowed (104.1) — is that players get to pad their stats against them.
To wit: Deng scored a game-high 31 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. Derrick Rose almost had a triple-double (23 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists). Gibson had a double-double (14 points, 11 boards) and 3 blocked shots. Hinrich finished with 14 points and 5 assists while shooting 6-for-8 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown.
Flip Murray added 16 points off the bench to go with 6 boards and 3 steals while going 8-for-10 from the line.
Power of the Paint:
Chicago outrebounded the Pacers 46-38 andhad a 27.9 to 17.0 advantage in Offensive Rebound Percentage. Furthermore, the Bulls had 10 blocked shots and outscored Indy 38-32 in the paint.
1st timeout: Rose was fouled before the timeout
2nd timeout: Hinrich missed 17-footer
3rd timeout: Called after Rose turned the ball over
4th timeout: Gibson turnover (offensive foul)
5th timeout: Murray drew a foul (2-for-2)
6th timeout: Murray missed 22-footer
I was recently asked to provide a little more information about what exactly happens out of each timeout. For instance, what kind of shot did the Bulls get (wide open versus contested), whether a turnover was the result of a busted play, etc. The reason I’m not doing that is because I’m more interested in the end result free of that level of analysis. This is because the assumption is that a team should be the most prepared and get the highest percentage shots following a timeout.
That said, I’ll give it some thought and consider delving deeper in the future.