Recently, a common meme has popped up surrounding these Bulls. The idea behind it is that the Bulls outworked their opponents all season to the best record in the league and now that its playoff time, that difference in effort is going to be mitigated because everyone will be giving their full 100%. People have claimed that's why the Bulls haven't been able to pull away from the Pacers. The problem, though, is that it's just not true. Allow me to explain.
When I look at the Four Factors, the two that stick out to me as being reflective of "effort" are the Offensive Rebound Rate and the Free Throw Rate. Why are those the most reflective of effort? Well, I think rebounding is relatively self-evident. The league's best rebounders are almost always high energy guys. There's technique there, but usually dominating the glass comes down to wanting the ball more and outworking guys for position to get it. Free Throw Rate is indicative of effort, to me, because it means you're driving the ball and forcing the issue on offense. The other two factors are turnovers and eFG%. I suppose you could say that turnovers are partially reflective of effort in that being diligent about protecting the ball requires effort, but I tend to think turnovers are more a reflection of the style of defense being played. As far as eFG% goes that basically comes down to taking efficient shots over a large sample size, but in a single game sample size, eFG% is the most variable factor. You can get good shots and miss them, over time, that stuff usually works itself out over a long period (like say 82 games), but over 2 games, you can get good shots and fail to finish them.
Looking at the Bulls first two wins against the Pacers all four of the Four Factors have come out the exact same way. The Pacers won eFG% (the most important of the 4 Factors) and the turnover battle but got crushed on the glass and the Bulls got to the line more frequently (thanks, primarily, to Derrick Rose constantly forcing the issue).
Check it out:
(thanks to www.hoopdata.com for the numbers)
A few things stand out. The Pacers narrowed the gap on FTR in the second game because they were better able to contain Derrick's penetration (mostly thanks to Paul George's work on Derrick) and by getting Danny Granger to the line. The Bulls countered that by dominating even more on the glass than in Game 1.
In Game 1, the Pacers dominated the eFG% battle on the strength of shooting an absurd % from three (10-18). In Game 2, the Bulls got the Pacers eFG% back to a more normal # for them (6-17 from three contributed mightily to this), but the Bulls could not convert inside to save their lives. They went 15-36 at the rim! That's horrendous. Luol was 1-5 at the rim, Joakim was 1-7 at the rim, and Boozer was 3-7 at the rim. I can't imagine the Bulls front line shooting that poorly inside again.
Basically, it is pretty flukey that the Pacers were able to win the most important 4 Factor battle (eFG%) two games in a row against this Bulls team. But it should be noted that eFG% and turnovers were the Bulls' weakest areas on offense all year. They were 14th in the league in eFG% (50.1%) and they were 19th in the league in turnover rate (13.5%). This is how they've won all year. They dominate the offensive glass. That's basically the only reason their offense was 11th in the league. And then they suffocate teams with defense.The defense needs to get better, particularly at forcing tough shots -- the Bulls lead the league in Opp. eFG% which combined with their rebounding was the top reason they had the best D in the league. For the Bulls to lose the eFG% battle two games in a row is highly unusual.* The fact that they won both of those games is a testament to their effort. Don't buy into the false media narrative.
*I should also note that the Bulls' D is best at stopping isolation players, like the three amigos in South Beach or Dwight in Disneyland, whereas teams that move the ball and force them to always be rotating, which is what the Pacers have been doing, give them many more problems at contesting shots. In some ways, this may be the biggest challenge for the Bulls style of defense. Obviously it will be harder to beat the Magic and Heat, but stylistically, the Pacers are about as bad a match for this Bulls D as one could imagine.