Lack of Multiple Defensive Efforts, Plenty of Brick-iness for Bulls in Game 4 Loss

Lack of Multiple Defensive Efforts, Plenty of Brick-iness for Bulls in Game 4 Loss

The Hawks used and abused open slots in the Bulls defense, tightened up their own, and the Bulls' shooters couldn't shoot in the Hawks' 100-88 Game 4 win to tie series 2-2.

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The Hawks have turned the second of the playoffs with the Bulls into a best-of-three series with a highly impressive 100-88 win in Game 4 of the seven-game series on Sunday.

The Hawks made the great effort to move the ball to bodies entering open slots where the Bulls lacked third and fourth efforts on the help defense to make buckets look easy. This kept the Hawks only down 69-67 going into the fourth quarter, where -- on the defensive end -- with Luol Deng (13 points on 5-for-14, 1-for-6 on 3s, seven rebounds, two blocks, 45 min.) and Kyle Korver (two points on 1-for-8, 0-for-5 on 3s, 19 min.) being brick-tastic, executing strong ball denial on Carlos Boozer (18 points on 7-for-10, 4-for-4 on FTs, six rebounds, 35 min.), and excellent help defense by Al Horford (20 points on 9-for-11, five rebounds, four assists) to stop Derrick Rose's (34 points on 12-for-32, ten assists, 9-for-11 on FTs, three turnovers, 44 min.) penetration, they got their stops when couldn't execute and closed the game on a 10-0 run to decisively win after a 33-point final period.
Despite a renewed aggressiveness from Rose to get the team to line shooting 21-for-27 (77.8%), the Bulls shot a terrible 41.1% (32-for-78) from the floor and a possession-killing 3-for-16 (18.8%) on 3-pointers, with only ten second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. On the other end, the Hawks made the Bulls' help defense pay with extra passes to Horford and Josh Smith (23 points on 8-for-22, 16 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks) -- largely from each other after drawing help -- to beat the Bulls with athleticism.
On Twitter, John Hollinger of ESPN called it "overhelping," but it isn't Joakim Noah overhelping when the third and fourth guys on the team misread their teammates' help being applied, as there was no singular goat. Deng, Korver, Boozer, Taj Gibson, and Keith Bogans were consistently exploited with their back turned on basket cutters. The Hawks shot 49.4% (40-for-81) from the field to post another average-but-good-enough offensive rating, creating easy buckets, notching 23 assists and shooting a high-volume, high-efficiency 22-for-34 at the rim (64.8%).
"When you play against the number one defensive team in the league,you have to be committed to moving the basketball," Larry Drew said after the game. "And I thought tonight we did a great job with that." (h/t: Kelly Dwyer)
  • Rose was immediately bashed in the instant reaction for his 32 shots, but there's a huge difference between Rose's 32 shots and the bad comparisons to Russell Westbrook. The differences are so elementary that it the comparison is so trite, it gets ridiculous. It's as ridiculous as the flip-side argument that Rose is great and the rest of the team sucks.

    Westbrook has Durant, while Rose has his long-range shooters bricking 3s like it's their job. What no one dares to say, because it crushes their fallacious shock statement, is that Rose didn't keep the ball from others in good spots to score -- which is the uncontroversial criticism of Westbrook. The Bulls spend a ton of time on offense standing around and watching Rose. When they move, use screens, and cut to the paint, he hits them. He got ten assists doing just this and bricked shots from others make him getting blocked six times look worse.

    Also, credit Horford in the fourth quarter for contesting Rose's penetration without waving at the ball. Keeping his body locked and not striking forced Rose to make tough shots around Horford, instead of Horford whacking Rose to get in foul trouble, send Rose to the line, and take his valuable self out of the game.

    Rose got to the line, hit his FTs, and didn't take too many jumpshots (0-for-2 on long-2s, 1-for-3 on 3s). He stayed aggressive, but went 6-for-14 at the rim and 2-for-8 at 3-to-9 feet because of some great help defense by Horford and Smith. His too late turnovers were shitters, but he only had three on the game.

    When he's chuckin' too many jumpers, I'm the first on Rose's back, but with a .449 eFG% and .849 FT%, as long as the volume is pushing the ball inside, I don't see where his decisions are bad in these situations. Evaluating his decisions are more valuable and less trite than simply being results-oriented. He's always going to look terrible when his teammates aren't hitting shots or dominating the glass.

    That said, 6-for-12 in the fourth quarter when the rest of the team gets only gets four shots is a problem. Not using well-set picks by his teammates because he's trap-aversive is a problem. But that's not all a Rose problem. Rose doesn't go off-book. He's about as coachable an athlete as there is. Thibs has shown himself to be a great playcaller and strategist. Guiding his star scorer, who happens to be his primary ball handler, ought to get a better effort.

  • Tom Thibodeau, after the game, on Rose's bad shooting line: "We struggled from the three. So hopefully we can knock those down. When [the Hawks] put two on the ball and you hit the open man, you gotta' keep the ball moving. It's a make-or-miss league. If [the shots] are goin' down, we're talking about how unselfish he is."
  • Thibs on the Hawks creating easy buckets off the ball: "The way the defense is constructed, it's five guys tied together. So if one guy's missing his part, we're gonna' look bad."
  • Thibs on questionable endgame no-calls when Rose seemed well-contested at the rim: "If there's contact in the restricted [area],it should be a foul. We'll take a look at it. We'll see if we can clear up the spacing a little bit. But usually when he generates that speed and there's contact in there, he usually get that call [from the refs]."

    That's coachspeak for "my guy got mugged at the rim a ton, the refs, blew it, but I don't want to get fined $35k by the league."

  • On the bright side, Rose's ankle is progressing. His explosiveness to the rim was a bit better -- even than Game 3 -- but we saw better lateral movement and heightened agility on defense to stay in front of Jeff Teague. Teague got to the rim easier than you'd like, but the movement was still better from Rose, Jeff Fogle noted (Hoopdata):
    Derrick Rose had happy feet again and worked his way to the free throw line. He was 9 of 11 from the charity stripe after going 0-0, 4-6, and 8-9 in the first three games. You can see his ankle improving in that sequence. And, tonight, he seemed to have good backward and side-to-side movement for the first time in quite a while (I hope I haven't ruined the series for you by encouraging you to look at his feet all night!).

    It's funny how Rose could mostly only go forward at reasonable speed in Game Three, yet scored a million points because Atlanta's defense was inexplicably passive. Tonight, Atlanta got much more aggressive...and Rose's confidence with his movement really got him into trouble. He was constantly running into blocked shots or ill-advised shooting attempts. He seemed to get a bit tired in the fourth quarter too, leading to this awful sequence that pretty much decided the game.

  • On a brighter side, wow, Boozer. Boozer played back-to-the-basket and had post-to-post explosion to the rim. He got up for a putback dunk, but still didn't jump well without a couple of steps behind him. My thought was a local painkiller, which is much less risky to take with a turf toe than Rose with his ankle.

    Boozer was aggressive on both ends and his defense just is what it is. Credit Larry Drew for making the Bulls pay for drawing Noah toward the perimeter as a helper to isolate Boozer off the ball with hard cutters along the baseline and from the wings. Horford went 6-for-6 at the rim -- five assisted. Smith went 6-for-11 at the rim, where he's been strong all series, shooting 11-for-17 coming into the game, and is now at 66.7% (33-for-50) in the playoffs. Smith and Horford's aggressiveness is usually going to beat anyone on the Bulls.

  • Noah was outplayed. Teague baited him well to show harder, Horford abused him in the low post, Smith cut to the basket from Noah's blind side all night. Bad night for the big man, despite 11 rebounds.

    The help problems were so consistent that I wonder if Noah wasn't communicating well enough on the court. The third and fourth efforts that were failing were looking behind them as if they were expecting help from Noah when he was already helping elsewhere.

  • Joe Johnson knocking down shots never bugged me. He had a strong game (24 points on 9-for-14, 3-for-5 on 3s, five assists). He hit good shots in the first half, was well-denied in the second half, but he made smart passes to negate that. So, I stay to this: Johnson can shoot the lights out, but if the Bulls defend well off the ball, the game slows down in a way where the Hawks get lazier and lazier and the Bulls exploited this in the Games 2 and 3.

    That said, he's scoring 21.0 PPG and shooting pretty nuts. His .542 FG% doesn't tell you half the story. Factor in him shooting 10-for-15 (.667) on 3s and you see he's shooting a pretty sick .627 eFG% at a volume that could get higher and deadlier if he isn't contested better.

  • The Hawks' bigger lineup was disadvantageous for the Bulls. On one hand, starting Jason Collins was free FTs for Rose because he's a bad helper. On the other, Johnson went to work on Bogans when Smith and Horford were passing so well without using energy as helpers on defense.

    This also gave Johnson and Teague bigger targets on the inside to hit when the Bulls committed to the help. This was key to countering the Bulls' traps without turning the ball over, Boozer said after the game:

    Also, if you think Boozer doesn't have a clue and he has a small value, you're missing that he has a stronger basketball I.Q. than for which he's normally given credit. As Thibs said, when the aggressiveness is there, he's an easy button on offense and rebounds to make opponents pay for bricks on defense.

  • When Smith's that aggressive, not even Taj is good enough. Taj scored nine without grabbing a rebound in 13 minutes, but Smith ran around him almost as easy as he did to Boozer.
  • Hopefully, Smith feels so confident from his good game that he goes back to shooting jumpers. He was left alone after bricking all 14 long-2s in the series and still only shot 1-for-5 in Game 4 on those jumpers. Maybe he'll need some more muscle applied to him off the ball, but if the Hawks are going big, there's no way to do that without turning Deng into a Foul Machine, which is self-defeating.
  • Interesting lineup closed the third quarter with an 8-0 run. Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer joined Rose, Deng, and Boozer for the final three minutes of the quarter and overcame a deficit to take a lead into the the fourth.

    Asik's eight rebounds and strong attempts to finish showed the aggressiveness and athleticism we saw throughout the mid-late season, so if there was a physical problem about which we didn't hear, he's getting better, running harder, jumping higher, and attacking penetration well. Brewer didn't produce, but his baseline cuts and passing lane attacks will be needed for the rest of this series if Drew's guys continue to buy into the gameplan of aggressive help, off-ball motion, and rapid ball movement toward the hole.

  • My God, Korver. The bricks happen, keep shooting. But you can't hide his defense against any Hawk and Teague proved that, while Rose was sticking Jamal Crawford. With Noah-Taj on the floor, he can show help to bail out Korver; with Boozer, Noah just has too much work to do. Is it a Boozer problem when Booz gives Noah the cushion to not have to rebound on defense or a Korver problem when Korver gives Rose the cushion to play inside-out on offense?

    My thought, if Deng is giving Noah the right third effort and Noah shows-recovers his help quicker, Booz and Korver in the lineup can still result in stops. Otherwise, hell no.

  • Offensively, Thibs should take a look at how he was out-coached. A lot of the offense run by Atlanta could be done the Bulls. Thibs called a play out of a timeout where Deng cut to the basket, but there needs to be more off-ball motion toward the basket, instead of the constant movement into the wings that forces you to live-and-die with jumpers when the interior defense is stopping dribble penetration.
Game 5 will be played in Chicago on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. CST.
Advanced Stats via Hoopdata.

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  • If this game had been more like game 1 with the Hawks just shooting the crap out of the ball I'd feel a lot more comfortable right now. The fact that they found ways to exploit the Bulls defense rather easily last night with layups and dunks has me a bit more worried about the outcome of this series than I normally would be. It will be interesting to see how the Bulls tweak things in game 5.

  • In reply to BearDown1982:

    I've said many times there are two ways to beat Thibs' defense: (1) elite isolation play; and (2) quick, alert off-ball movement into slots opened up by help followed by borderline insane ball movement without turnovers.

    The former requires a superstar killing people 1-on-1 or a shooter hitting crazy shots (and that can backfire with everyone else getting shut down) and the second uses up a ton of energy that can't be used to stop the Bulls when they're in motion. Both are incredibly difficult to convert into a win, especially when the second approach includes active hands for steals and aggressive blocks. The scheme was an effort to exploit the Bulls, not a fool-proof plan, at least. It can be countered by: smarter, quicker rotations by the Bulls; more defensive hustle off the ball; and better on-court in-moment communication.

    The Bulls are great at all of these things. Last night, they sucked at all three and paid for it. That's not tweaking, so much as being who they've been all year.The tweaks should come naturally after watching the film.

  • In reply to LittleAlex:

    If your assessment is correct...I guess we should all take some comfort in the fact that replicating either scenario in 2 out of the next 3 games will be very difficult for the Hawks.

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