Bulls vs. Sixers, 2012 NBA Playoffs: The trickle-down disaster of the Bulls not 'finishing' possessions

In the Bulls' Game Two 109-92 loss to the 76ers, the stench of bad was overwhelming.

The Sixers' 59% shooting from the floor was:

  1. the highest shooting percentage allowed by the Bulls in the Tom Thibodeau Era;
  2. the highest shooting percentage they've notched under Doug Collins by almost 20 points; and
  3. higher than the Bulls' free throw percentage (55.6%) for the game.

To say that sort of production is largely not repeatable is an understatement. But that production was a reflection of what the Sixers have shown to be very repeatable: maximum effort.

The Bulls went from leading by eight at halfttime to be down by 14 at the end of a disastrous third quarter. Collins stressed leading into Game Two that rebounding was their key to victory. TNT mics picked up on him hammering home the task of dominating loose balls.

Maximum effort was most tangible in Game Two by the Sixers finishing their offense and defense, while the Bulls could do neither in that third quarter. In the fourth, the Bulls were out of gas and quit on the game when it was out of reach.

Fans often hear coaches repeat the line "we need to finish our defense". In the case of this game, the Sixers finishing their defense was not just executing traps to help the smaller Jrue Holiday chase Richard Hamilton and Kyle Korver through screens, but the third effort of a player rotating to get into the rebounding position from which that trapper left and the fourth effort of either boxing out on a shot or flooding the ball on a pass.

Normally, this is how the Bulls kill their opponents' possessions in the final 12-to-15 seconds of the shot clock, but it was the Sixers performing these tasks and the Bulls performing pretty much none of them.

Jrue Holiday going nuts

To say that Holiday was just shooting above his talent is an over-simplification -- though an 11-for-15 shooting night is likely not repeatable for him in this series. The Bulls never pressured his pick n' roll well and neither C.J. Watson nor John Lucas III were able get into efficient defensive positioning on him. When they pressured, he dribbled them off; when they sagged, they sagged too far off to challenge his shots.

And this wasn't just Watson and Lucas. In the halfcourt, throughout that quarter, Philly kept three legitimate ballanders on the court -- Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala with Holiday -- and while primary defender wasn't getting help, the other four players weren't staying home near their man, allowing for easy off-ball movement on the weak side with good passers having the ball in their hand.

This isn't a problem of not finishing the defense. This was a problem of barely beginning to execute the defense at all.

Since when does bricking shots end Bulls' possessions?

Luol Deng used the excuse for the Bulls getting out-rebounded 38-32 that: "They didn't miss a lot of shots. There weren't a lot of rebounds to get."

That's true to an extent. And if Deng were on most teams in the NBA, this statement is an acceptable reason for not grabbing rebounds. But when analyzing the Bulls, the shitcake still smells like shit, no matter how aromatic the frosting.

This is a Bulls team that was 12th in FG%, bricking almost 55% of their shots, this season, but converted for 107.6 points per 100 possessions to finish fifth in offensive efficiency. Because the buckets and bricks aren't the deciding factor in how the Bulls convert their possessions.

The deciding factor in how often the Bulls convert their possessions is whether or not they 'finish their offense' with the effort most teams are told to 'finish their defense'. Finishing the offense isn't making the right pass to the player with the best chance to make a bucket in this offense. Finishing the offense, in this offense, is being in position to keep the possession alive with offensive rebounding in the 11-of-20 chance that the shot is bricked.

Not only do those offensive rebounds create easier opportunities to score because the defense has less time between the start of the shot clock and the next shot to reset, but there has to be some level of pressure off of shooters to need to hit shots.

In that third quarter: the Bulls' 14-point quarter featured bricked 15 shots, but only one offensive rebound. Meanwhile, the Sixers' 36-point quarter featured 11 fastbreak points.

There's no question that the 14-point deficit is smaller if the Bulls grabbed those boards at anywhere near their NBA-leading 32.6% rate. Even if the extra three or four boards only produced one or two extra buckets, they could've taken away an extra situation or two from the Sixers to operate running the floor in transition, as they do best. Do the math and that's anywhere between a four-and-eight-point swing.

Joakim Noah was a scoring savior, but he and Omer Asik grabbing a grand total zero offensive rebounds in that quarter, when there were more than plenty of opportunities to grab them, handed the game over to the Sixers in a way that induced the Bulls to quit on that game very, very fast.

Seriously: you're the tallest men on the floor and your team bricks 15 shots in a quarter, you can't grab one offensive rebound. That's embarrassing.

The Bulls' 24.1% offensive rebounding rate wasn't awful, looking at the entire game. But that stretch of brick-and-done possessions shows how much the Bulls' formula for the possibility of success lies just on maximum effort and how fragile leads can be against a team willing and able to put forth that effort.

Rebounding better helps to get back on defense faster

The men around the baskets not getting offensive rebounds creates another problem for the Bulls: it consumes more energy from players who need that energy for offense to get back on defense.

Deng, Hamilton, and Korver had invisible nights on offense, if not totaling to brick 17-of-26 shots. What made Hamilton and Deng's offense more difficult in that third quarter where they each shot 1-for-5 was that they we using energy to run the full length of the floor too often following the bricked shots. Both were not only less able to recover in transition as their energy fell, but less able to defend in the slower halfcourt possessions, and unable to wreak havoc off the ball in the Bulls' halfcourt possessions.

A key to beating the Sixers is these wing players wearing down the Sixers, so they have nothing left to which they can dig deep and grab later in shifts. But when the Sixers force this energy consumption from the Bulls, the Bulls' need for resting more on offense makes for worse shots, more bricks, and less offensive rebounds.

Make no mistake: lack of any effort -- or even poorly executed effort -- from the Bulls' bigs trickles down to the shooters and those shooters' perimeter and transition defense.

Stats via NBA.com [pdf].

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