Last night started as one of the loudest nights in the United Center in recent years. It ended in a painful and embarrassing loss for the Bulls. Brooklyn poured it on in the third quarter and made a statement to the home crowd and basketball fans nationwide in the process. Zach LaVine said it best: “We got an ass-whooping.”
What Went Wrong? Bulls
Right after tip-off, Derrick Jones Jr. fell to the floor with a right knee injury and limped to the locker room with the help of his teammates. Alfonzo McKinnie entered the game underprepared as our “KD stopper”. On offense, he touched the ball too often and tried to do too much. Lacking time at the PF spot for Chicago, these errors are understandable but still hurt our chances against a team like the Nets.
To put it nicely, Brooklyn won the foul battle. Our bench combined for 15 fouls, and the Nets earned 28 free throw attempts by the end of the game. James Harden drew two three-point fouls in the first half, a sign that our defense lacked discipline without Alex Caruso and Javonte Green. I’m not one to blame the refs, but there were plenty of bad calls in the Nets’ favor throughout the game as well.
The real tsunami hit in the third quarter when the Nets went on a 21-4 run in the final six minutes led by the unguardable offensive creation of KD. The Nets shot 12-for-18 while Chicago shot an ugly 7-for-23 in the same span. The disparity in three-point shooting accelerated the run by Brooklyn. Kevin Durant and James Harden combined for 25 points and eight assists in the quarter in contrast to DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine‘s combined seven points and two assists. To cap it off, McKinnie went 1-for-6 (most attempts from a Bull in the third) and committed two turnovers and three fouls in this stretch alone. Long story short, switching the defense to focus on doubling Durant did not work.
The identity of the Bulls so far this season relies on winning the turnover battle, dominating the fastbreak, and earning crucial second-chance points. Not only did Brooklyn prevent us from playing within this identity, but they also turned this strategy against the Bulls. Combining fastbreak points, second-chance points, and free throws, the Nets got 56 preventable points.
What Did We Learn? Bulls
There is no margin of error against a team as talented offensively as the Nets. Disciplined defense is a must. Keep your feet on the floor, know your rotations, communicate with your teammates, don’t use your hands, box out, and get back in transition. The bench unit just made too many mistakes, and the Nets’ all-stars made them pay. These mistakes crippled the Bulls’ ability to double team Durant in the second half, and he was ready. On the offensive end, the wrong guys (McKinnie) took too many of the wrong shots. Far too much settling for mediocre shots and nowhere near enough aggressive drives to the rim (minus the forced, poorly spaced drives from Zach in the third).
After watching both the Bulls and Pacers face the Nets, we need more off-ball cuts. Indiana forced Brooklyn to pay for suboptimal rotations, hedges, and doubles by sending an open man to the unprotected rim. Before tip-off, I assumed Nikola Vucevic would be our key to beating the Nets at the rim. Instead, an under-defended player on the wing should immediately cut to the rim, forcing the defending low man to the rim and opening up the corner three. Even though the Pacers lost, this cutting strategy kept a hodge-podge lineup in the game against the star-studded Nets.
But, we are missing our guys who give us both of these concepts on a regular basis. Alex Caruso is an incredible off-ball cutter and our defensive leader. Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. give us great cutting options who also know their role on both ends much better than McKinnie. I’m not saying any of these guys or strategies can contain KD, but they definitely give us much better chances of winning the game and playing true Bulls basketball for 48 minutes.
It’s one game: At the end of the day, it is one game. There is a lot to learn from this, and we can’t draw too many conclusions about our long-term future from 48 minutes of basketball. We’re missing guys and started the game off by adjusting the whole rotation due to injury. Preparing for a three-man unit that’s played so few games together is also a huge coaching challenge. Even after last night, the Bulls are still the top team in the East. Besides, they have a tough game on Friday to prepare for.
If you’d like me to dive deeper into the X’s and O’s from this game and how we can improve against the Nets, leave a comment here or reach out to me on Twitter (@noahgoedken).