The Bulls sputtered and hobbled and stumbled as of late, losing six of their last eight, falling to 0.500, but the slump came to a halt Monday night at home against division adversary, the Detroit Pistons. The Bulls meant business, coming out of the gate strong and leading this one wire to wire, quickly amassing a 16 point lead after the first quarter and a 35-point halftime lead.
- The Bulls scored 69 points in the first half, their most of the season. This matches their entire point total from Friday night’s embarrassing 26-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. To achieve this feat, the Bulls shot an impressive 72.9% from the field. This is no small task for the Bulls, whose field goal percentage was fourth worst in the NBA coming into the game, at 43.6%.
- Monday’s performance also landed the Bulls among the daily leaders in the NBA: 34 assists (1st), 59.8% field goal percentage (1st), 100% from the line (1st), 50% field goal percentage (1st), 46 rebounds (2nd), nine steals (2nd), and 113 points (3rd).
- The ball was hopping in the first quarter, posting 15 assists. This is tied with Golden State for the most assists in any quarter this season – saying this is good company to be in would be just a slight understatement.
- Rajon Rondo had a near triple double, with 10 points, 14 assists, and eight rebounds, helping the Bulls maintain meaningful possessions and execute fast breaks for easy points.
- The 34 point lead after three quarters allowed the starters some rest – not one of them logged a minute in the fourth quarter; Jimmy Butler led with 30 minutes, Rondo had 28, Robin Lopez with 25, Dwyane Wade with 22, and Taj Gibson with just 19 although not for lack of production – he was 8/8 from the field with 16 points, four rebounds, a block, a steal, and a +19.
- Astonishingly, the Bulls didn’t need many trips to the free throw line since their shooting was so good – Butler was 6/6 and Wade made the one attempt he was afforded.
- I could rattle off individual stats up and down the roster on a night like tonight, but what’s more telling about their performance is that they had seven players in double digit point figures, with no player posting over 20; to boot, 34 assists on 49 field goals is an extraordinary sign that the Bulls hope to continue.
- The team was reported to have a lowlights film session of Friday’s loss to the Bucks, which was said to have impacted the team in a positive way by helping them maintain an open mind to their respective criticisms and identify areas for improvement. It came through in flying colors.
- As embarrassing as the Bulls were on Friday against the Bucks, the Pistons found a way to equal it. Head coach Jeff Van Gundy said, “We got crushed. It was a disgusting performance by all of us, me included. I mean, it was unprofessional, embarrassing, humiliating. It looks to me like a lack of effort and a lack of heart. And if you don’t play hard, you’re not going to have any confidence. We looked like we were hoping the game would be easy tonight, and it wasn’t. And we just caved.”
- Up Next: On Wednesday, the Bulls host the Washington Wizards, while the Pistons host the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Bulls were looking to turn the tide against their conference rival Detroit Pistons Tuesday night, after suffering 2 losses in a row to the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers. The Bulls welcomed the return of Rajon Rondo to the lineup tonight after his one game suspension. However it was not enough, as the Bulls again became one-dimensional, relying on Jimmy Butler to carry the team. This common narrative has bitten the Bulls over the last few years, as their lack of a diverse group of players who can score at will and create their own shots, has cost them a chance at truly competing in the Eastern Conference. NBA experts continue to say you need more than one star on a team to win a championship, and while Wade and Butler can “play” those roles, the inconsistency and unreliability of the two every night has Bulls fans frustrated.
- The Bulls struggled out of the gate to create efficient scoring opportunities, as they we unable to penetrate the paint early. Once the ball reached the elbow; it was quickly kicked back out for an ill-advised 3-point or long-range 2 attempt that missed consistently.
- Because the Bulls were unable to produce scoring from different areas of the court, they tried again to feed the ball to Nikola Mirotic. In 23 minutes of playing time, Mirotic only totaled 5 points, and was 2 of 7 from the field, 1 for 4 from behind the arc. The Montenegro native has been getting extended opportunities with the injury to Doug McDermott’s and off-nights for Dwyane Wade and has not been able to deliver on the promise of a scoring threat the Bulls were sold on when they drafted him in 2011. It may be time for Fred Hoiberg to give another scoring option a chance, as Mirotic has not been able to deliver so far this season.
- The #3 ranked defense of the Detroit Pistons showed its muscle tonight, forcing the Bulls to shoot contested shots every chance they had.
- When the Bulls were, however, able to break through the Pistons’ defense, the big-man game of Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio, yes, Felicio was efficient and impressive. The trio combined for 22 points and 24 rebounds and showed Bulls fans what it looks like to have a post presence, especially going up against one of the premiere centers in the league, Andre Drummond. Bulls’ fans that were used to watching Joakim Noah on offense have gotten a pleasant surprise from this “new” trio down low.
- Gibson continued to impress tonight, recording a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
- As halftime approached, the Pistons offense slowed, as the Bulls cut into the lead and trailed 51-44 at the break.
- The Bulls started the second half strong and were able to score 7 unanswered points. At the 5:19 mark in the 3rd, the Bulls, who once trailed by 17, took their first lead of the night 62-61.
- But as I wrote in the recap of the Bulls vs. Mavericks game, turnovers were the story again tonight. The Bulls ended the game “leading” the category 14-9, and midway through the 3rd, they had already given up 20 points on 11 turnovers.
- The Bulls comeback was riding on the shoulders of their premier scoring option, and only scoring option of the night, Jimmy Butler. While Wade had a quiet 19 points, it was Butler who emerged as tonight’s star, totaling 32 points. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Bulls have been plagued by this “single-scoring option” offensive approach. While Hoiberg does not try to implement the “Butler-only” game plan each night, it is what the Bulls are left with, based on the talent they have, at this point in the season. Wade can contribute when needed, but it is not consistent. The only true shot-creating, constant scoring threat is Butler, and if the Bulls are going to advance in the Eastern Conference, they need more than one scoring weapon.
- The Bulls continued to chip away but to no avail. Tobias Harris lead the way for the Pistons with 22 points, and Andre Drummond held his own in the paint with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
- The story from 3-point land tonight showed again the lack of diverse scoring options for the Bulls. While the Pistons weren’t anything to write home about, shooting only 38.1 % from behind the arc, the Bulls shot a forgettable 13.3%, going 2 for 15.
- With a healthy Dwyane Wade, Jerian Grant only saw 4 minutes of playing tonight, and Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine did not play. Hoiberg’s use of a shorter bench tonight proved ineffective, as the Bulls were unable to get enough scoring from their starters and role players that entered the game.
- Up Next: The Bulls try to snap their 3-game losing streak as they square off against the San Antonio Spurs at home on Thursday night.
I’m a little conflicted as to whether or not I want the Bulls to make the playoffs, because on one hand, even an eight seed means at least a few more games and a chance to surprise Cleveland in the first round, but on the other hand, it seems like continuing to lose in the waning weeks of the season exposes the troubles of this team in a way that hopefully leads to change. The trouble with the losses is that watching games like last night’s against Detroit is increasingly difficult. These two teams have been pretty evenly matched all season, so it is no surprise that this game stayed close throughout, but it remains frustrating to watch the Bulls continue to lose, as they did 94-90 at the United Center last night, dropping to an even 38-38 and now two games out of the eighth seed. The patterns to their losses are very familiar now, but there are a few things that stood out to me last night, so let’s take a look:
- This was their 22nd different lineup last night. This is an effect, of course, of injuries to key players throughout the season, but that kind of inconsistency has plagued them all year when it comes to who starts each game. Some shifting in the starting five is natural, but not necessarily to this degree. Last night they started with E’Twuan Moore, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Bobby Portis, and Pau Gasol. Moore was an important factor in keeping their defense somewhat solid – the lack of which was plainly evident when some of the bench players came in last night.
- Derrick Rose was still out with his injured elbow that was hyper-extended on Thursday in Houston. Rose might be able to return against the Bucks today, but that will depend on his level of soreness. Despite the struggles of the team around him, Rose has quietly put together a very quality season, as our own Drew Hackman wrote here just a few days ago. Rose has consistently shot well in 2016 and is a key part of the scoring attack, as he has changed his approach to the rim.
- The Bulls were also without Taj Gibson, who has not played since Tuesday against the Pacers. Like Rose, Gibson could return against the Bucks today, but that is unclear so far.
- Speaking of players who have put together solid seasons, Gasol had another strong night, scoring 16 and grabbing 14 rebounds. As recently as the February trade deadline, Gasol has been named as a probable part of the Bulls future as they move on from this season, but of late, this stance has changed. He wants to compete for a championship, and at 35 years old, his opportunities to do so are fleeting, so sticking with a Bulls team that looks to be in need of a massive overhaul makes less and less sense for him and for Chicago. He’s often been a bright spot this year, but it might be time for him to go when he’s officially a free agent in July.
- Last night, Butler ran the offense. Jimmy has been casual about the role of point guard in the past, but while Aaron Brooks presents trouble for the Pistons on defense, he offers little defense of his own and especially last night, was rarely consistent about actually running the offense. Though Brooks was able to score 14 points, he had just two assists. He regularly drove to the bucket last night without bothering to even look to see if passes could be made to set up a better shot, and then left the perimeter open to outside shooting on the other end of the floor. Brooks’ time on the floor probably should have been kept to shorter stints in order to offer scoring bursts and in order for Moore to keep the defense solid.
- The Bulls bench, which has shown just flashes of its former greatness throughout the season this year, greatly outscored the Pistons bench last night, but not enough to turn the tide of the game. Here’s where Brooks’ lack of reliable defense probably outweighed his offensive contributions.
- Though last night’s game was yet another microcosm of the frustrations of the season as a whole, Butler had an absolutely career night. His performance evoked the likes of Michael Jordan in some ways last night, particularly his team leading rebounding. In the end, he had his first career triple double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. He was brilliant to watch, and probably the key reason the Bulls didn’t get blown out of their home arena last night. Butler has somehow been a name mentioned in trade rumors for the summer, though I am quite skeptical. The Bulls probably do need an extensive overhaul, but trading Butler means they are essentially scrapping the whole team as we know it, and the front office in Chicago has not shown a propensity for those kinds of extreme measures.
- Coming up: with just six games left, the Bulls have a chance to grab a win tonight in Milwaukee.
The Bulls are entering one of the toughest stretches of games that they will see all year, so Monday’s matinee win over the Detroit Pistons was vital to preserving their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference as the season nears its halfway point. The Bulls move to 24-16 on this victory, and maintain their spot just a game behind Toronto for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Monday’s 111-101 win raised some questions about the Bulls and their need for Joakim Noah following his season ending injury on Friday night, but much of this is too early to tell. Here’s a look at how the Bulls held off a very strong Detroit team on Monday.
- Bench play. The Bulls bench players scored a combined 33 points on Monday to just 18 from the Pistons. Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott combined for 17 of those points, and Nikola Mirotic, though he didn’t get the start tonight even in Noah’s absence, added 10 points of his own. Otherwise, E’Twuan Moore added six to round out the bench scoring. With the exception of Bobby Portis, the bench had a +/- that averaged over +11 collectively. Brooks had a ridiculous 10 assists as well.
- Pau Gasol. I can’t get too far into this without mentioning Gasol and the work that he did against Detroit. He played nearly the most minutes of the afternoon, second only to Jimmy Butler and his 13/18 from the field was instrumental for a team that was down by six points when the first quarter ended. Gasol also led the team with 31 points on offense to go with 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on defense.
- Detroit’s collapse. The Pistons shot an insane 68% in the first quarter to take a six point lead as the quarter ended, but they folded as the game progressed. The third quarter was their roughest patch, as they were called for three technical fouls, two of which were against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was ejected. Detroit had led by as much as 13 at one point in the third quarter, and coming off of their 18 point victory over the seemingly untouchable Golden State Warriors on Saturday, this was a matchup that I was a little concerned about, especially since it was a road game for the Bulls.
- Better off without Jo? This is a question that I hate to even ask on the heels of his very devastating injury on Friday night that has effectively ended his season, and it is obviously one that cannot be answered after just one game without him, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Fred Hoiberg and Derrick Rose had a few things to say about the question today:
“I don’t think you could find one guy in that locker room that would say we’re a better team,” Hoiberg said. “He does so many things.”
“I’m not going to say that we’re over him or we don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “But we’re professionals. We know that once someone goes out, somebody has to step in and do that job, and we believe in everybody on this team.”
- I don’t want to read too much into this, but I would probably have said that the Bulls were better off, if even slightly, before he was injured. Noah turns 31 in February, so he has been in the league for a considerable amount of time, so his decline as a player is inevitable. Noah has posted a 14.3 PER so far this year, which is lower than even his rookie year nine seasons ago.
- Where’s Bobby Portis? On Monday, Portis played for just over three minutes and did not score at all. He has not hit double digits in minutes in about a week, and Portis has not shown the flashes of brilliance that drew us to him a couple of weeks ago, and consequentially he has been seeing a diminished role off of the bench since then. Monday would have been a good opportunity to capitalize on the minutes that he was getting, but he did not score and he had just two rebounds.
- Jimmy Butler, All Star? The voting ended on Monday night, and Butler stands a chance to be voted in as a starter. He has certainly earned a spot and probably deserves to start, but it’s more likely he is selected as a reserve behind Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry, likely vote winners.
- Coming up, the Bulls will test their mettle at the United Center on Wednesday night against the 38-4 Golden State Warriors.
The Bulls and Pistons are extremely evenly matched teams. This is obvious to say after a game that required twenty extra minutes to decide, but it’s worth discussing as these two teams could find themselves in a playoff series come spring. Sometimes a close game isn’t as close as the score indicates. One team could have unexpected contributions from a hot shooter or two, or benefit from a few kind whistles from the ref. But Friday night that was not the case, as the Bulls and Pistons traded punches throughout a game that easily could have gone to a fifth overtime.
- Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 43 points in extremely efficient fashion. Butler shot 14/29 from the field on a variety of challenging shots. Even better than the great shooting was the patented aggression going to the basket to draw contact. Butler took 16 shots from the charity stripe, connecting on 14. Butler wasn’t able to find his three point stroke, but he did knock down his only three of the game in a high pressure situation to bring the Bulls back to within one point of Detroit with just seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.
- Butler wasn’t the only Bull to notch a season high point total. Derrick Rose was not shy about looking for his own shot off of pick and roll drives in this game, and that aggression allowed him to score 34 points. Rose went to his right-handed floater early and often throughout this game and was able to take advantage of Detroit’s conservative defensive scheme and avoid having to meet Andre Drummond at the rim.
- The downside of those finesse beauties is they don’t often lead to shooting fouls. Rose was 14/34 from the field, but only attempted five free throws. In order for Rose to boost his often atrocious efficiency, he’s going to need to get to the line more often.
- Early in this game it was obvious Rose was making an effort to push the ball across half court early in the shot clock. The early initiation of the offense allowed him to glide the rim a few times before Drummond could get down the court and clog the paint. But once again in the fourth quarter and overtime periods, Rose took his time getting into the offense. The Rose-Gasol pick and roll is a reliable way to create offense, but when it starts with less than sixteen seconds on the shot clock it often results in a contested attempt taken without the time to create secondary action on offense.
- Joakim Noah continues to look more like the guy who finished fourth in MVP voting than the broken down liability he was last season. In 25 minutes on the floor, Joakim scored six points, grabbed 11 rebounds (five on offense) and dished out four assists. My favorite Joakim moment from this game happened after Jimmy Butler knifed through the lane and found Jo, who had perfectly timed a cut from beyond the arc, for an uncontested dunk. The off-ball cut is just another way Joakim is able to squeeze offense out of his limited skill set.
- The Bulls bench struggled overall in this one. The only Bull to post a positive +/- who didn’t start was Kirk Hinrich’s +1 in 13 minutes. This is very disappointing considering the complete lack of bench talent on the Pistons. Fred Hoiberg missed an easy opportunity to hold and build upon the lead created by the starters by never having Pau Gasol in the game when Andre Drummond was on the bench. Gasol was very good in this game, scoring 30 points, 10 of which came at the line. But the majority of his shot attempts came on elbow jumpers after the kick out from a driving guard. Pau could have had an even bigger impact on the offense had Fred given him some run in the 13:35 that Joel Anthony was in the game. I understand the value of Pau’s ability to space the floor with the starting unit, but Detroit presented a perfect opportunity for the Spaniard to bang bodies against second unit scrubs.
- The Bulls received virtually no contribution from the small forward spot in this game. Tony Snell was 1/7 from the field, all three point attempts. Detroit picked on McDermott’s defense a lot in his 22 minutes of action. Doug was forced to track his man through numerous off ball screens and found himself switched onto Reggie Jackson twice in the pick and roll. Doug is likely experiencing some post-traumatic stress from the ordeal. McDermott has improved his off ball defense since the start of the season and is able to work comfortably within the Bulls system. But his on ball defense still has a long way to go, and will need to improve to justify heavy minutes when the postseason comes around.
- Andre Drummond is a monster. He presents a huge challenge in the pick and roll and opens up wide open shots for his teammates by sucking in defenders when he dives to the rim. It’s rare for a guy who has no ability to hurt you from outside the restricted area to actually help your offensive spacing, but Drummond’s incredible size and athleticism allows him to do just that. Drummond’s defense waned down the stretch of regulation and overtime after picking up his fifth foul with five minutes left in the fourth, but he was able to last another 19 minutes on the court before fouling out in the final minute of this marathon.
- Coming up: the Bulls head to New York to play the Knicks…right now!