Sunday evening did not go as planned in Chicago, as the Bulls dropped game one of their first round matchup against the Wizards. Despite limiting the offensive impact of backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Bulls failed to get enough stops down the stretch to take home a victory.
The big reason why the Wizards have this early series lead is the play of their big men duo, Nene and Marcin Gortat. Nene in particular destroyed the Bulls, scoring 24 points on 11-17 shooting. Gortat pitched in 15 of his own on 60% shooting to go along with an impressive 13 rebounds. Their impressive combination of size and soft touch make them a terror to cover anywhere inside the three point arc, and provide a huge challenge to the Bulls starting lineup.
Newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah was matched up on Nene for the majority of game one, leaving defensively challenged Carlos Boozer to do his best against Marcin Gortat. Boozer’s attempts at fronting the Polish Hammer had mixed results, as Wall lobbed some difficult passes into the paint. Those passes, when successful, bent the Bulls’ defense out of its comfort zone. When Gortat was able to secure inside position on Boozer, he drew the attention of Noah. And when Noah was worried about Gortat, Nene went to town.
While Wall and Beal were a combined 7-27 from the field, the slack was picked up for them by reserve guard Andre Miller. After a falling out with the coaching staff in Denver midway through the season, Miller saw his playing time reduced to zero. After getting traded to the Wizards as a part of a deadline deal, the Wizards picked up a valuable backup who brought stability to the second unit. Providing stability would be underselling what Miller accomplished Sunday evening; going 5-7 from the field in 14 minutes of play, Miller carried the Wizards in the early part of the fourth quarter, keeping the score close and providing crucial minutes for Wall to rest his legs. Miller’s outburst caught the Bulls completely by surprise. One could even say they forgot about Dre.
Looking ahead to game two, I believe the Bulls have a lot of reason to be optimistic. Game one was within their grasp, with a double digit lead in the third quarter and a quiet performance from the Wizards starting backcourt. But a complete power outage down the stretch offensively derailed what should have been a win.
Allow me to pull some stats from the always awesome SportVU data supply on nba.com:
Nene was 5 for 5 on contested field goal attempts.
Joakim Noah allowed 78% of field goals attempted at the rim while he was defending. Taj let in 60%. For the regular season, those numbers were 46.8% and 45.7%, respectively.
DJ Augestin went 0-7 on uncontested field goal attempts.
Mike Dunleavy, playing in his first career playoff game, got off to a rough start and never got on track shooting just 4-12 from the field (although he was an efficient 3-8 from deep).
And I know I said it already but it bears mentioning again: ANDRE MILLER SCORED TEN POINTS AND CARRIED THE FOURTH QUARTER OFFENSE.
All those numbers should put a smile on your face (assuming your face does not enclose the brain of a Wizards fan) because a lot of the Wizards success and the Bulls’ struggles can be chalked up to random error and small sample size.
Of course the pessimist would quickly point out that shots will start to fall for Wall and Beal, and that Boozer’s, uh, “defense” is not getting better anytime soon. The 45-39 rebounding split is a bit disappointing as well for the Bulls as it will be difficult to ever secure a real advantage on the glass.
A bit of success that needs to be pointed out is that Washington, which managed to make 36% of their three pointers in game one, only attempted 11 such shots in game one. The Bulls stayed true to their defensive principles, not overhelping on drives and playing with a keen awareness as to which shots are most valuable in the game. The Wizards averaged about 21 triple attempts a game during the regular season, many of which were sweet shots from the corners. Those won’t be there this series.
In game two, look for the Bulls to get Mike Dunleavy involved early. If Dunleavy is hot, perhaps the Bulls roll the dice with a Kirk-DJ-MD lineup to give Butler some rest to keep him fresh for the home stretch. Remember the first quarter when Butler was slashing and driving to the basket, making difficult finishes and providing some relief to the sluggish Bulls offense? Tom Thibodeau needs to to a better job of managing Butler to ensure he has enough gas in the tank during crunch time.
Should shit really start to hit the fan, look for Taj to start the third quarter alongside Noah and for Boozer to only get minutes when one of the Nene-Gortat combo hits the pine. I know Thibs is not a man to mess with his routine, but Boozer seems an ideal candidate to carry the second unit offense for brief stretches and not have to worry about guarding elite big men at the other end of the floor.
Allow me to cut myself short before I really start to ramble into craziness. My overall takeaway from the first meeting of these two teams is that everything is fine. Game one is exactly how it sounds: just one game. The Bulls should continue to play their brand of bruising and methodical basketball and the coach will make the necessary adjustments that great coaches make. The Bulls are generally a safe bet coming off a loss, and in a home playoff game I don’t think they need any extra motivation.