The Bulls did not play well against New York. They looked all out of sorts on the offensive end aside from a bombardment of Dwyane Wade threes, and found themselves slow cooked by a Knicks team that had almost exclusively performed poorly to that point.
“Oh well”, I thought. “It’s just one game. The Bulls are playing against another underperforming team tomorrow, and they’ll have a chance to quickly remedy the things they did poorly tonight.”
While I was at it, I should have wished for a damn pony. The Bulls were terrible on Saturday night, a total exercise in non-communication and isoball. Despite being crushed by the Bulls earlier this week, the Indiana Pacers demolished Chicago in a 111-94 drubbing that saw the lead balloon by as many as 27 points. After jumping out to a sterling 3-0 record, the Bulls are back at square one after dropping their third straight game. “It was all good just a week ago…”
How have the Bulls fallen so far so quickly? Let’s take a look. For the past 3 games, (not so) coincidentally all losses, the Bulls have had to play catchup from the very start. After finding themselves down after one quarter by 11 and 9 against Boston and New York, respectively, the starting lineup dug its deepest hole yet, and the Pacers led 31-15 entering the second frame. Yikes. Ball movement replaced itself with ball dominance, and the Bulls found themselves simply unable to score with any effectiveness. The Pacers defense closed on the paint like a Venus flytrap, and Chicago found itself with 6 made field goals to 7 turnovers after 12 minutes of play. Not ideal.
After getting off to a pretty good start in the first few games, the Rondo/Wade/Butler combo has cratered offensively. They’ve now posted a sub-99 offensive rating on the year, and it seems the spacing concerns everyone had about this unit over the offseason are coming to life before our eyes. The defense was even worse, and even the team’s better defenders such as Jimmy Butler just watched as Paul George back-cut for layups with ease. In the pick-and-roll, Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young torched the Bulls in the same way Kristaps Porzingis did on Friday. Robin Lopez is a great interior defender, but struggles to cover large amounts of space, and the Indiana bigs found themselves open time and time again.
I would tell you about the Bulls’ run to close the double digit gap as they did against both Boston and New York, but it never came against the Pacers. After his masterclass against New York on Friday night, Dwyane Wade looked creaky, making just 1-of-9 field goals for 4 points. That should probably be expected, given he’s approaching 35-years of age and road back-to-backs are hard for old dudes. But when no one’s there to pick him up, only bad things can happen. Doug McDermott had 12 points off the bench, but missed his last 4 shots after going 3-for-3 and again attempted just two three-pointers on the night. The only other real nightly notable was Bobby Portis, who toasted the Pacers third stringers for 16 points on just 9 shooting attempts. He still looks totally lost defensively, but hey, it’s something.
There’s not really a whole lot to say here. If I told you “the Bulls played like crap and lost”, I honestly wouldn’t be leaving out much of the story. The Bulls played like crap and lost. It happens, and will probably happen more than a few times with this group in the future. They can be better, though, and with any luck the Bulls will look at this game and the one against New York as an opportunity to regroup and figure out what not to do in the future. Their next test will be at the United Center on Monday, where they face the plucky Orlando Magic, who have rattled off three straight wins after an inconspicuous 0-3 start. It will be interesting to see how the Bulls’ offense will respond to Orlando’s fierce interior defense. Maybe have a bottle ready.