The Bulls fell behind early and turned a 17-point deficit into a five-point lead, but the Bobcats starters executed in the fourth quarter as they did early. The Bulls lost their third-straight game on the road Wednesday in Charlotte 96-91.
The Bulls (25-13) went into Charlotte and got their asses handed to them by the Bobcats (15-21) in a bigger way than the 96-91 score implies for their third-straight loss on the road.
The Bobcats are built to be a strong defensive team with arguably the best wing stopping tandem in the NBA -- Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson -- which allows them to never get caught off screens. The length of the two being 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8, respectively, allows them play man-on-man and just switch defensive assignments at will, along with help in the low post.
As you can tell, they're a... umm... tight unit:
Nazr Mohammed was out with a bone bruise, so Kwame Brown started at center. He provided great help in denying-doubling Carlos Boozer with Boris Diaw and former Bull prospect Tyrus Thomas, who is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.
On the other end of the floor, the Bobcats were extremely well coached by Paul Silas in his eighth game at helm since relieving Larry Brown. There are two ways to beat Coach Tom Thibodeau's excellent defensive scheme: (1) isolation by an elite one-on-one player; or (2) quick, precise ball movement. Maybe, it's the merengue classes, he was apparently taking while unemployed:
- Executing (2) so well made the ball find opportunities and (1) on the weak side for bailouts. The reason why (2) is so effective is that it keeps ball a step or two ahead of the Bulls rotating pressure and eventually finds a great scoring opportunity. At times, it's easy to wonder why a team doing this is passing up on shots while watching, but that's usually them caught in a rhythm or being passed to as a middleman more safely move the ball to the weak side of the floor or get a better entry pass. As long as the turnovers aren't self-defeating, this works like a gem.
- In the 36-point first quarter, nine of the Cats 13 baskets were assisted as five of their seven baskets in the second quarter. They finished the game with only 23 assists as the Bulls defense got more conservative and the Cats went more isolation in the fourth quarter.
- Kurt Thomas had an awful first quarter where Brown made ten early points look easy. Diaw stretches the floor to create space for Brown to operate, but he isn't all that skilled, offensively. Thomas was just too slow and Brown had all the space he needed. He also grabbed two offensive rebounds for five total in the quarter where the Bulls were out-rebounded 11-6.
- The Cats starters and Thomas were excellent at these two execution points in the first and fourth quarters were they outscored the Bulls 36-22 and 27-21, respectively. Reserves played more zone on defense which slowed down their own rhythm too much and this even led them to settling for bad jumpers on the offensive end.
The Cats are now 6-2 with their new head coach watching Wednesday's beating on the Bulls is evident to why. His basketball I.Q. is off the charts and if it's trusted, the energy comes with more trust and remains constant. From that, the execution is as accurate as it gets.
The Cats just don't have high-skilled scorers. Jackson is their leading offensive player, but him, Wallace, Thomas, and D.J. Augustine are better second or third options. This emphasizes execution and limited their isolation opportunities. But all four picked their spots to isolate very well when the Bulls forced them into it by staying home on defenders.
- With off-ball movement deemed irrelevant by the Cats execution, the Bulls needed to attack on the dribble. But the Cats are one of the best shot blocking teams in the NBA and because you can't force mismatches against them easily, you get past one defender and an equally, if not tougher, one has their body denying paint access.
- Derrick Rose's game was stifled. He finished with only 17 points on a terrible 5-for-17 shooting affair, not able to finish on nine of his 12 attempts attacking the paint.
- Carlos Boozer was an easy button, but the ball couldn't find him. He had another double-double with 23 points and 14 rebounds, but most notably he had zero points on only one shot, zero rebounds, and two fouls playing almost eight minutes in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he sparked the Bulls with eight points and grabbed five rebounds where the Cats shot 7-for-21 and the Bulls out-rebounded them 13-10. He played a strong fourth quarter with seven points 4-for-7 shooting, but he was the only effective offense in the quarter and was denied the ball well.
When he wasn't denied, Captain Jack was almost blinded by greatness:
- Boozer's defense had me screaming. Augustine dropped 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting and 8-for-9 at the FT line, usually trying to score by attacking the paint. Boozer's help defense consisted of planting himself in the front half of the paint and fake swiping at the ball while Augustine ran around him, instead of shifting his body to deny paint access.
This effectively screens Rose who was then forced to trail a man already about 7-8 feet from the basket. Every time, I screamed, "MOVE YOUR DAMN FEET!" Boozer needs to learn this like last week.
- Luol Deng had a great third quarter, but that was about it. He finished 22 points, but not finding scoring opportunities. With the Bulls down 55-42 coming out of halftime, he carried the Bulls to a 28-14 third quarter with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, going into the fourth shooting 8-for-11. He finished the game shooting 8-for-12 and 4-for-5 at the line, but it isn't for lack of the ball finding his hands. His only shot in the fourth was bricking a three-point attempt.
He doesn't recognize isolation spots of the game early enough. The Bulls being sluggish on offense is usually to blame because they should be shifting off the ball better, but Deng the primary wing player of this team. When he has the space, he needs to attack the one-on-one situation before off-ball defenders can notice the situation.
- Deng's shooting 13-for-58 (22.4%) on threes over the last 14 games. If you've been watching, you know his shot hasn't been falling. Now you know how rare it has been falling. Before this season, his career highs in attempts per game was the 1.4 in his rookie season, followed by 1.2 last season -- the sixth of his career. This season, he's up to 4.1 per game, which is refreshing because his long two-point attempts are about cut in half, so I'm not saying to red light him. But before this stretch, he hit 41-for-100, bringing his 3P% down from .410 to .348 of the season.
In recent games, he's used his strength more often to be a go-to guy on the bailout. That hustle was there in the third quarter, but not in the fourth where the tiny lead he built vanished. More of this, please:
- Speaking of threes, the Bulls were clearly on the attack and scored 48 in the paint. Other than Deng shooting 2-for-6 on threes, they shot 2-for-5 -- Korver hitting both of his attempts. They were clearly executing a strategy to not shoot when you see Thomas and even Keith Bogans putting the ball on the floor to score.
- It wasn't pretty, but Bogans and Thomas aren't bad attack with the intention of scoring. They're not great, but it's the best way to not be at a 5-on-3 disadvantage to open games. Bogans puts the ball on the floor a lot and look silly going through paint traffic, but if he's gonna park himself in corners, It'd be good to see him drive up the baseline more as he did in Wednesday's game for his only basket of the night. More of this, please:
Thomas scored nine just getting to the basket without the ball when Boozer moved to the high post. The high-low game is what the Bulls have missed most without Joakim Noah on the offensive end, but Thomas' nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and four assists -- seven and three in the second half -- showed he's comfortable with taking on that role. Go for it, I say. The Bulls are too terrible on offense as a unit to deny this.
The game wasn't a bad Bulls game as much as a really strong Bobcats game. Thomas scored 17 with a season-high 13 rebounds, facing up whoever the Bulls decided to put on him and Jackson scored 12 in the second half when started posting people up instead of settling for jumpers. Wallace and Jackson just shut down the wings and trapped Rose the entire second half where Rose held onto the ball a bit too long or fired passes too quick that he was turning the ball over.
The refs could've blown the whistle on about five of Rose's missed dribble drives, but there was a lot of clean positioning by the Bobcats' help defenders. You have to give them credit for smooth, quick, smart rotations.
Next, the Bulls play the Pacers (16-20) in Indianapolis on Friday before hosting the Heat (30-10) on Saturday. Indy beat the Mavs before the Heat lost to the Clippers aloowing 44 points in the first quarter on Wednesday. Bizzaro World, indeed.
Stats via NBA.com.