Game Four was horrible. I watched it alone in my apartment, which was probably for the best as screaming and pacing with a pillow on my head is behavior best kept from the public eye.
Rose, whose excellent performance was overshadowed by that guy on Cleveland getting his field goal percentage up to 33, blew past a half-asleep Cavaliers defense to tie the game up with just seconds on the clock. Prior to that, the refs actually made a correct call to benefit the Bulls when LeBron James was penalized for trying to create space by doing that move from NBA Street.
But it was not enough to preserve home court and push Cleveland to the brink of elimination. Jimmy Butler, who played lock down defense for nearly 46 minutes, had little left in the tank on offense. Mike Dunleavy, who has been the most consistent Bull of the playoffs and has always been a barometer for team success, went just 1-7 from the field and played much of the game with foul trouble. Niko, my sweet, sweet Niko, went 1-9 from the field, including a missed three at the end of the third quarter that could have been a back breaker and another missed three earlier in the game that would lead some to believe he was hallucinating a second hoop somewhere off to the right.
Obviously, it’s not good to lose a hard fought home game at the buzzer to a guy who seemingly makes the Finals every year. But even though the Bulls have given home court back to the Cavaliers, I remain optimistic.
A quick recap of the current state of the Cavs:
Kevin Love is out with a shoulder injury
Kyrie Irving is battling a foot sprain that has basically turned him into a statue and robbed him of any lift on his jump shot. He now has knee tendinitis as well.
LeBron James looked like he badly rolled his ankle, an injury that probably didn’t improve during the flight home.
The Bulls are dealing with their own injury issues as Pau Gasol hopes to return from a hamstring injury in Game Five. While his absence forces Thibodeau into using more practical lineups, his offense was sorely missed in a game where the Bulls shot 36 percent from the field.
Assuming Gasol comes back, Butler keeps playing incredible defense for entire games, Rose makes a couple of really awesome plays a night, Irving continues to feel the ill effects of his foot injury, Dunleavy and Mirotic bounce back, JR Smith doesn’t turn into Reggie Miller for three minute bursts, and LeBron stops doing LeBron things, the Bulls should be fine.
Jake Weiner: I didn’t expect this. I really didn’t. Even with Kevin Love out for the playoffs and JR Smith slated to miss the first two games, I couldn’t see the Bulls taking Cleveland past six. After seeing the Bulls go up 1-0 in both 2011 and 2013, I even assumed we’d do it again before falling to King James. The winner of Game 3 in a 1-1 series goes on to win about 80% of the time. The Cavs destroyed the Bulls in Game 2 and with JR Smith back from suspension, it was time for LeBron to break our hearts once again. Derrick Rose, not insignificantly playing in his ninth playoff game of the season, had a different narrative in mind.
Game 3 was by far the closest game of the series, somehow the only one with lead changes. Winning a playoff game with that tight a margin is about so much more than the final play. Kyrie Irving aggravated his sore foot early on and failed to record an assist; Jimmy Butler played the greatest defensive game of his young career against James; a hamstring injury to Pau Gasol forced Tom Thibodeau into using his lethal smaller lineups (read: NIKO); the referees turned in a preseason performance that heavily skewed toward the road team.
But for at least one day, none of that comes even close to mattering. Derrick Fucking Rose hit Chicago’s first game winning shot in the playoffs since The Great One singlehandedly won Game 6 in 1998. All the setbacks, all the intense rehabilitation, all the nagging doubts…vindicated. Rose got back to the mountaintop last night and did something his team has never done before: win a second playoff game against LeBron. No matter what happens from Game 4 on, we’ll always have The Bank Shot.
Steven Kerstein: Being the piece-of-shit gambler that I am, I usually don’t get into games unless a) my White Sox are involved or b) there is money on the line. Having said this, last night’s performance (obviously) had me jumping out of my seat. To put it simply, Game 3 played out like a cliche sports movie.. Sometimes, we all need a little of the Disney-like Shenanigans in our lives.
While Derrick’s shot will be how we remember Game 3 decades from now, there were a few themes (less obvious) that set up the final moment. The Bulls were +15 in rebounding (54-39), +7 from the line (25-18) and only committed seven turnovers to Cleveland’s 11. If the Bulls can stick to maintaining the edge in these three areas, they should be in good shape. Before I sign off so you can focus your attention to the better writers, I’ll leave you with one final statistic. Derrick only attempted two three-pointers in the first 47:58 of game play. Rose was not settling for the most part and getting to the line. While I’m usually not a proponent of him jacking up copious amounts of triples, I’m sure glad he made time for number three.
Jacob Bikshorn: Up until the moment I saw the ball pass through the hoop and the clock hit all zeros, I figured Game 3 was going to be another heartbreaking postseason loss at the hands of LeBron and Friends, Version 2.0. A first half marred by blown layups and jumpers that popped in and out seemed like an early kiss of death. To leave points on the table against King James is, under normal circumstances, an unforgivable sin. But the ball did pass through the hoop after a brief pit stop at the backboard. Derrick Rose, whose last true playoff run was cut short by LeBron and Friends, Version 1.0, guaranteed that this current clash with LeBron will finally make it at least six games.
Rose’s shot was incredible. The roar that erupted from my living room full of mildly intoxicated dudes could be heard from the street, where our shouts mingled with the countless others around the city. It was like an incredible weight had been lifted off of all of us. The first games against Milwaukee where Rose looked so explosive were reassuring, but those performances didn’t carry the weight of last night.
Last night’s game was not “The Old Rose,” “Vintage Rose,” or “MVP Rose.” But it was the type of performance that this Bulls team, loaded with more offensive talent than any of the Thibodeau era, needs to overcome the superstars in Cleveland. Derrick finished the game with 30 points on 10/26 shooting. While going 38% from the field leaves something to be desired, Rose’s shot chart tells a better story, with the painted area overcrowded with attempts. Rose, who averaged over five three point shots a game during the regular season, limited himself to just three attempts Friday night. And while he only made one, what a one it was.
Drew Hackman: The importance of Game 3 and why I had a healthy mix of jumping, screaming, fist-pumping, and skipping around like a little kid after Derrick hit that shot:
Derrick had missed his last few isos in previous possessions, including a missed free throw, which were chances he had to extend the lead.
The Bulls haven’t had a playoff winning buzzer beater since the Jordan era (1997 Finals).
Derrick needed this.
We (Bulls fans) needed this.
LeBron’s teams against the Bulls in recent history have lost Game 1 and then swept the remainder. This curbed that trend.
So much for “bad” Derrick on one day of rest.
Jimmy did a great job slowing down LeBron.
Kyrie aggravated his ankle – another reason the Bulls needed to capitalize with a W.
JR Smith made his presence known after the suspension was lifted, going 4/8 from three point range. It was important that the Bulls didn’t allow the Cavs to think he’s a difference maker.
The Bulls did a great job on the boards, despite Tristan Thompson’s unrelenting activity.
The Bulls have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series tomorrow afternoon at the United Center.
Jeff Berest: So even though LeBron and Kyrie combined shooting just 11/38, the game was pretty much back and forth the entire way. Don’t think the Bulls can count on two of the top ten players in the world putting up another clunker like this one. I’m not saying the Bulls are outclassed by the Cavs, but if they are going to take two of the next four games they got to stay on their A game. Because LeBron will not go softly into the night. Although I would kind of like to see this all blow up in Cleveland’s face; trading Wiggins for Love and then not making it past the second round.
Pau leaving in the middle of the game with an injury was subtly a turning point and may have actually been a blessing in disguise (yikes). The Bulls probably didn’t miss his horrendous and well-documented rim protection. Thibs finally released Nikola Mirotic from bench purgatory, and he was able to be a +19 in 22 minutes. Even though I’m not a Bulls fan, I feel my frustration boiling over when Mirotic isn’t on the floor. It makes no sense at all. He’s such a matchup problem, especially now that the Cavs are without Kevin Love. Thibs has made a conscious effort to not play Mirotic in the playoffs, even though he was one of Bulls best players during the regular season. Like WTF?
The game winner from Derrick Rose was…(insert hyperbolic adjective here). You really have to feel great for him, and the tribulations he’s been through leading up to this point is what makes this such a great moment. He definitely called bank on that shot too. (Editor’s note: He did not, unfortunately). I had zero stake in the game and who won, but I even got up off the couch to cheer for D-Rose after the shot.
Game two fucking sucked. I spent a good chunk of overtime crouched on the ground with my hands intertwined behind my head. It just seemed like the right thing to do as I could frog leap up if something good happened and fall down from a somewhat safe distance from the ground in the event something bad happened. If you were to ask me about the game within four or five hours of its completion, I would have mumbled something unintelligible while wildly waving my hands in the air. But time heals all (even Derrick Rose) and I have calmly put some thoughts on paper about the Bulls, currently down 2-0 to the Wizards and heading to Washington for the next two games.
Tom Thibodeau is without a doubt one of the best coaches in the league. His defensive scheme has become the most imitated system in the NBA. His ability to turn broken down and discarded players into key cogs in the rotation is a remarkable and invaluable commodity to the penny-pinching Bulls.
In a season where the best player missed 72 games and the second best player was shipped off midway through the season, Tom Thibodeau managed to make a team that scored the fewest points per game in the league fun to watch on a nightly basis. Ask Cavs fans if they had fun watching regular season basketball. Or Knicks fans, or Pistons fans. With superior talent and inferior coaching, those three franchises turned into unwatchable (unless you’re a car wreck fan) dumpster fires that sucked the life out of fans. A Thibodeau coached team will never know that pain.
Tom Thibodeau has some major flaws. Wrapping up his fourth year as the conductor of this high speed train, Thibodeau has failed to grasp certain concepts that separate the very good coaches of the NBA from the excellent ones. Greg Popovich, recent recipient of the Coach of the Year award, has found ways to stay ahead of the league in terms of strategy. Pop was one of the first to grasp the value of corner threes. Thibs, to his credit, also understood that a shot worth more points from a shorter distance is super important and built his defense around shutting down those attempts. But where Popovich is miles ahead of Thibodeau is understanding rotations.
The Spurs have nine players who average between 19 and 29 minutes a game. Tim Duncan led the team in total minutes at 2,158 minutes. Marco Belinelli is the only other Spur to crack the 2,000 minute mark at 2,016. Tiago Splitter, who dealt with health issues, had the 9th highest minute total on the team at 1,271.
The Bulls had six guys crack 2,000 minutes for the regular season. Joakim Noah, who somehow managed to stay on the court for 80 games, led the team with 2,820 minutes. Hinrich, the sixth most used Bull, logged 2,116 minutes. DJ Augestin, picked up midway through the season, still managed to log 1,800 minutes. The 9th most used Bull this year was Luol Deng, who hasn’t been on the team since early January.
I understand it’s unfair to measure Thibodeau against maybe the greatest coach of all time, but it needs to be pointed out that Thibs is SEVERELY lacking when it comes to pacing his players and understanding when its ok to take your foot off the gas. Tony Snell is never going to make an all-star team, and he may never even develop into an average NBA player (his PER of 8 is, ugh, low). But the marginal cost of playing him a couple more minutes a night against the marginal benefits of keeping Jimmy Butler fresh (and by fresh I of course mean “not on the verge of death by exhaustion”) likely outway those costs.
The Bulls, for two consecutive games, have turned into a middle school basketball team offensively in the fourth quarter. In game two, Chicago shot 7-25 in the fourth quarter and overtime. A lot of those shots came as the shot clock was winding down and resulted in Kirk Hinrich taking wild jumpers and DJ Augustin trying to get bailed out on out of control drives to the basket.
Whether it’s a result of a change in play calling or a ramping up of defensive pressure, the Bulls completely abandoned Noah in the high post. The flex sets where Joakim catches near the free throw line while the other four Bulls on the court screen and cut around him have been a staple of offensive success for this limited team.
High screen and rolls with Hinrich as the ball handler are not going to cut it in crunch time. No one is afraid of Kirk’s shot or his speed and the man guarding Hinrich happily goes under the pick, clogging things in the paint and forcing the Bulls to settle for bad shots.
I don’t care how ramped up the pressure is on Noah off the ball. The Bulls need him to facilitate the offense to prevent it from completely dying down the stretch.
The Wizards are more talented than the Bulls. Wall and Beal are better than any (healthy) Bulls guards. Nene and Gortat present the rarely seen dual threat front court that can stand toe-to-toe with the fearsome Noah-Gibson pairing. Their athleticism allows them to make up for small defensive breakdowns, closing on just about every shot and challenging everything at the rim.
I expect the Bulls to take one of the next two games, but I don’t expect much beyond that. Dropping both games in Chicago has put the Bulls in a difficult hole to crawl out of.
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.