The irony of the Bulls postseason

First Indiana, and now Atlanta. Both teams have used their athleticism, energy, and underdog status to make the first two rounds of the playoffs difficult for the Bulls. But while the Pacers and Hawks surely deserve credit, the Bulls’ struggles are arguably largely self-inflicted.

What were the primary strengths that led the Bulls to a league best 62 wins during the regular season? Simple, most would agree: Tom Thibodeau’s masterful defensive coaching, and Derrick Rose’s outstanding offensive play. It’s no coincidence that they were recently named Coach of the Year and MVP.

Yet it is precisely those strengths that may, ironically, prove to be the undoing of the Bulls in the playoffs. Of course their excellent defense will continue to benefit them, but as much as Thibodeau is a genius at orchestrating play on that end of the court, he has thus far proven to be mediocre at best as an offensive coach.

Yes, it is true that the Bulls have limited offensive weapons, and several players have been fighting through injuries as well. But an over-reliance on Rose in the playoffs is a recipe for elimination, and every one of their opponents has been – and will be – well aware of that fact.

The fourth quarter of last night’s game was a vivid illustration of the problem. Rose took 12 of the Bulls’ 17 shots in the quarter, as Atlanta outscored Chicago 33-19. The Bulls were stagnant throughout the final period, essentially standing around waiting for Derrick to put on his magic show. They were able to get away with that quite a few times over the course of the regular season, just as the Lakers got away with the Kobe magic show many times over the years, as did the Bulls when MJ was playing. But just like those two multiple championship teams, this year’s Bulls must create more balanced scoring in order to advance to, let alone beyond the conference finals.

It’s a vexing problem because Thibodeau’s great strength has largely masked his biggest weakness. But now, in the playoffs, that weakness is being exposed, and the burning questions are whether he will (quickly) make the transition to using Rose as a facilitator and decoy more often, and whether the superstar’s surrounding cast will step up and hit shots when given the chance.

It’s very tempting to think that brilliant players can carry their teams on their backs, and will them to victory, as it does indeed happen occasionally in individual games. But these are the playoffs, and as outstanding a player as Derrick Rose is, he cannot take the Bulls to the promised land on his own. He needs help, and coach Thibodeau needs to break the rigid pattern that has defined his team’s offense throughout the season in order for that to happen.

About the author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As a pick-up player, he admits to having stuck too long with low-top shoes (Puma Baskets, for the detail oriented), but did belatedly make the switch when the sprained ankles became tedious. Tony’s professional life revolves mainly around buying, selling and managing Thoroughbred racehorses. While he now resides outside of Chicago, he remains an interested, enthusiastic, and at times critical Bulls fan.

9 Responses to The irony of the Bulls postseason

    joe May 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Playoffs are hard.

    Making it to the Eastern Finals would be a huge success for team that held a fire sale to clear cap and missed out on it’s top two free agents targets.

    Atlanta _beat_ Orlando fair and square. This team is for real.

  2. Anonymous May 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    100% agree – Thibs is overworking Rose…improve that offensive scheme or this will be the young MJ days all over again…MIA (or even ATL) will beat us if we continue to play like this….really hoping CHI pulls in a capable SG over the summer.

    I also agree that reaching the conference finals would be a success.

  3. Inception May 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    100% agree – Thibs is overworking Rose…improve that offensive scheme or this will be the young MJ days all over again…MIA (or even ATL) will beat us if we continue to play like this….really hoping CHI pulls in a capable SG over the summer.

    I also agree that reaching the conference finals would be a success.

    GotNext May 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    There’s definitely a need for offensive adjustments. Thibs and the coaching staff have to do a better job making our offense less predictable. At the same time, it’s up the the players, specifically the point guard, to recognize what the defense is doing, what’s working and what’s not. To me it’s never about how money shots a player takes, but if he’s making good decisions. The refs have done a pretty good job swallowing their whistles this series, and Rose has to take that into consideration next time he decides to charge into 4 hawks players for a full quarter.

    chitown4life May 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    There is a need to get more scoring on the floor to help rose
    1) Pg- D Rose
    3) Sf- DoAll-Deng
    4) Pf Boozer
    5) C J- Noah

    As good as bogans is he does not get the respect that korver would get on the floor in turn freeing some lanes up for deng and Rose to score and allowing boozer to have more room to make shots also under basket.
    Our coach needs to think outside the box here Butler was picked up here to help with scoring we need scoring simple math , school is out time to make that change coach adjust on the fly this is what great teams do. I still feel our bulls can win even if changes are not made just trying to make the game easier for all the players on the court to score with these changes. Peace

    Gorditadogg May 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Lot of talk about how Bulls can get better on offense, but the fact of the matter is when Bulls play good defense they win, when they play bad defense they lose.

    The problem last game was not that we scored only 19 in the 4th, but that we gave up 33. The last thing we need to do right now is to try to get more offense, we are not going to outscore anybody. We need to get our best defensive players on the court and shut the Hawks down.

    Tony C. May 10, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Gorditadogg –

    If the Bulls continue to over-rely on Rose offensively, they are unlikely to reach, let alone win the finals.

    I’m the last person to use dry statistics to make a point, but coincidental to my post, True Hoop published a piece on Rose’s Usage Rate, and how it has gone up from its already high level in the playoffs. The author notes that no team has ever won a championship with an individual player recording anything close to Rose’s current 36.6 (the second highest ever behind Iverson).

    Yes, the Bulls defense is primary to their success, but even with great defensive teams, a reasonably balanced offense is also crucial.

    inkybreath May 11, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    @chitown4life … I would love to give Butler a minute or two in the game. If we play the Heat, it would be really nice to have his size at the ready.

    He proved during the season that he can come off the bench cold and drill a long jumper or 3 ball. But … the stakes are too high for that, so I say give him 30 seconds of floor time at the end/beginning of quarter and see what happens. Deng can get an extra breath and you run him back out. And, if he shows something, then he can go 2 guard for a quick spell – He hasn’t played a lot, but I remember that he can get got McGrady style. I would even hazard to say that he is the better off the dribble shooter Bogans, Brewer and Korver.

    Basically, is a two-way player, like, Deng and we can use all the offensive talent we can find.

    inkybreath May 11, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    edit “… but I remember he can get Hot McGrady style…”

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