The Sixers impressive start to the season leading to their league-best point differential has been undoubtedly helped by their easy schedule. But while they may not be yet amongst the league's best, they proved to the Bulls that they're certainly quite good. And more interestingly, a bit of a matchup problem.
A lot was made during the home telecast of the mirror image the Bulls were looking at all night, in that the Doug Collins-led squad was built to defend and hustle on every possession just like the Bulls are known for. But while the Bulls have advantages in shotblocking, scheme, and discipline, the Sixers excel in creating havoc on the perimeter. Using Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams speed, and supplemented by their athletic, long wings, they were able to harass Derrick Rose farther out from the basket than most teams can try while also being able to close out and frustrate the Bulls shooters. The Bulls 2-3 spots were manned by backups Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver (yes, I was quite proud of my pre-game tweet), and while they started out hot a combined 5-6 shooting, after 5:42 in the first quarter they combined for 3-10 the rest of the way. Even Korver's makes were long twos, as the Sixers knew to run him off the 3-point line.
The result of that aggressiveness on defense was not only 17 turnovers, but the even worse Sixers-forced turnover. Those same guards and wing finishers, led by Andre Iguodala (also a 'starter' of the fast break, with 2 steals that felt like 9) can run out and make you pay, and in total had 29 points of turnovers in the game. Even in a 4th quarter where Thibs waived the ginger flag and the CJ Watson-helmed unit earned the Bulls some momentum into reducing their deficit, the Sixers would force another turnover and either finish or get fouled, or both.
Derrick Rose single-handedly kept the game close in the first half, looking as outstanding as he had in his previous three 30-point efforts when driving for 8 of the last 10 Bulls points to pull them within 5 to end the 2nd quarter. But outside of that, and for much of the abysmal 11-point third where the Rose-Watson combination was given a try, it'd usually be a long jumper with little second opportunity. Even without two key bigs (Hawes and Vucevic), the Sixers kept the Bulls to an abysmal (especially for them) 20% Offensive Rebound Rate, while allowing the Sixers to get over 27% of the misses on their offensive end. Starting Center Tony Battie had zero of the Sixers defensive rebounds (and it's bad to be Kurt Thomas without the rebounding, yikes), so if you look up and down the boxscore it was again those big, lengthy, and fast Sixers wings who made the difference. And another facet of the game where Deng and Hamilton's absences loomed large.
You'd hope that especially without those two, the Bulls frontcourt could provide production. However, Joakim Noah must've seen his paycheck pre-game as he had only 2 points in his 27 minutes. Boozer fared a bit better and actually made some attempt to score at the rim tonight, but his defense was so atrocious that it was focused on by both the in-game and post-game TV crews. And it made sense, as the Sixers themselves were disciplined enough (10 TOs, and best in the league at that) to focus on it all night as well: often forcing Boozer to move his feet to defend the pick and roll with hilarious/sad results. And if it came to stopping the ball or defending the rim in transition, it was best to just avert your eyes. Plus, I swear I think the mic picked up more of his annoying screams than usual...but maybe I was just biased by the especially-poor performance.
This is why Boozer's held to such a high standard (or just a standard) when it comes to his point output and location: he has to be a plus offensively to mitigate his bad defense. He shot poorly but did have decent production (9 and 9 in 27 minutes), but with both sides of the ball suffering with the Bulls starters out, he has to do more. Noah at least gets some of a pass because he's working on defense not only on his guy but covering for Booz. I mean, Lavoy Allen had 15 points for the Sixers. I honestly did not know who that was, and I'd like to think I keep up on these sorts of things.
Bright side in all of this was that, as mentioned above, Thibs didn't push his starters too much for a lost cause (and Jimmy Butler looks good in lost-cause action, I must say). Rose, Noah, and Boozer were all around 30 minutes tonight and should have both fresh legs and a bad taste in their mouths heading into New York tomorrow. The Knicks may present some different problems, but at least we know the Bulls won't be encountering a stout and in-your-face defense. The Bulls didn't look too great tonight when seeing that effort brought on them for a change.