Bulls finally get over the hump with defense and clutch shooting
Let’s be honest – last night’s game was no better than a disgusting affair, where both teams qualified for what looks to be the lowest combined score (146 points) in a playoff game since 2002 (Detroit and Boston combined for 140). Nevertheless, I am ecstatic after that win for a couple of reasons: 1) Although the Bulls stopped crashing the offensive glass (they lost that battle 11 to 8), the 76ers somehow still got out and ran for 23 transition points. We won anyways. 2) The 76ers continued to get to the free throw line and draw fouls (24 free throws attempted in all), yet we still won. Looking at just the raw stats comparison, you would think Philly had actually won this game. But they didn’t for two reasons: half-court defense and a clutch performance from Luol Deng.
The Bulls obliterated Philly in the half-court and really frustrated them. Evan Turner had by far his worst game of the series, scoring 4 points on 2/7 shooting, committing 4 turnovers and attempting 0 free throws (averaged 5.5 in the first 4 games). Andre Iguodala was also atrocious offensively. The Bulls finally got the hint – when Iguodala starts out slow, let him beat you with his jump shot. There are better shooters on that team (Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams) that must be stopped in the half court. Iguodala is one of the streakiest shooters in the NBA, and it showed last night. He scored 11 points on 4/19 shooting and went 1/6 from downtown. Six 3s attempted? Give him that ALL day. Overall, Philly shot 32.1% from the field, which shouldn’t surprise anyone at all after seeing the Bulls pick up their defensive intensity. Let’s dig a little deeper into some advanced statistics and assess how the Bulls did so.
Below is a breakdown of the Bulls defense in Games 2-4 compared to Game 5 based on the four factors for team defense: opponent’s effective field goal % (OEFG), defensive turnovers caused per possession (DTPP), defensive rebounding percentage (DRP), and opponent’s free throw rate (OFTR).
Based on these numbers, it is easy for us to see that the Bulls knew the only way for them to win this game, and potentially this series, is to lockdown on defense. Even with a depleted offense, everyone knows that great defense is what sparks offense. The Bulls refused to give Philadelphia open looks last night and really stepped up their game by wreaking havoc in the half-court and causing a lot more turnovers than usual.
In addition to the phenomenal defensive performance was Luol Deng’s ability to hit clutch shots. He played, without question, his best game of this series, scoring 24 points on 10/19 shooting. More importantly though, were his four 3-pointers, three of which came in the fourth quarter with the shot clock winding down (all under four seconds). Those are the exact kind of shots the Bulls have needed without Derrick Rose while letting their fourth quarter leads slip through their fingers. They’ve had no one to bail them out at the end of the shot clock – until last night. Deng was simply sensational.
Now it’s back to the City of Brotherly Love tomorrow night for Game 6. Joakim Noah told ESPN Chicago this morning that he “will do everything I can to get back on the court tomorrow night.” Let’s hope he gets back out there. Nothing would make me happier than shoving it to those classless Philly fans with a much needed W. But even if Noah doesn’t play, I still have faith that, after last night’s team performance, we can absolutely win this series. Only time will tell.