We're on the verge. One loss away from the end of an Era. A pretty interesting moment in time if you zoom out for a second and take it all in. We'll save our thoughts and our shouting and our laughing and our crying when it's all actually said and done, but you can't help but feel like, well, hopeless. To me, last night's 106-101 Game 5 loss was tougher to stomach than Game 4 was. Game 4 was an opportunity relinquished, Game 5 was the series slipping away for good. But hey, it's not over yet. These Bulls will fight because they know no other way out. Ultimately, it's not been a lack of heart, but a lack of production that's done the Bulls in.
1) Bench Production
I'm not sure I need to spell it out like this, but here we go. Cleveland's bench this series: J.R. Smith (suspended for the first two games), Matthew Dellavedova, Kendrick Perkins, James Jones, Mike Miller. Chicago's bench this series: Taj Gibson (started the last two games), Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell.
Now, objectively, which bench would you say contains more talent? Which bench would you say is deeper? Chicago, yes? I think that's pretty obvious even without breaking it down into super close detail. Like, if you're even just a casual basketball fan, glossing over those names should register something to the effect of, 'yeah, Chicago's bench is probably better.'
Well, here's the bench production (in points) through five games of the series: Chicago 102, Cleveland 101. That's...um...what? How? I realize, in the playoffs, that a bench is something that's not a huge deal so long as its not losing you games. And granted, both coaches are limited in their options due to injury, but this should've been such an advantage for Chicago all series. I mean, Kirk Hinrich's been the team's best player off the bench. Aaron Brooks? Dreadful. Nikola Mirotic? Yikes.
Again, bench play shouldn't make or break a playoff series. That's what the best players play the most minutes for. But I can't look past guys like Brooks and Mirotic simply not producing enough.
2) Don't Double Team LeBron James Anymore, Thanks
Luckily, a missed open corner three.
LeBron was unstoppable in pick-and-roll last night. Splitting any double with easy, putting immense pressure on the backline of Chicago's defense to make quick, split-second movements and decisions. Sure, LeBron had a 'LeBron Game' and there's very little any defense -- let alone Chicago's -- can do to stop him when it's all working for him. But I thought Chicago's defense was pretty shoddy last night in general. Aside from that fourth quarter stretch where the Bulls nearly erased Cleveland's 17-point lead, Chicago's defense left a lot to be desire. I mean...
3) This Derrick Rose Defensive Possession
Just watch Derrick Rose here. Things he does wrong, in order: doesn't box out the shooter on the initial attempt but instead falls out of bounds, again doesn't find a body on the second attempt, spaces out completely and lost track of everybody which in turn gives Cleveland a third look from deep. Tom Thibodeau always talks about multiple effort on defense, and Rose on this play -- most of the night, really -- didn't give multiple effort. Every possession counts in the playoffs, folks. They all matter the same.
4) Bulls Offense
So, in the second quarter the Bulls went five solid minutes without a field goal. We've seen that movie before. But just prior to that, the Bulls kept running this rub action involving Hinrich and Rose, which looked like this:
Hinrich screens Kyrie Irving -- WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, YOU HAVE THE MATCHUP YOU WANT -- so J.R. Smith makes the switch onto Rose. Like, Rose hits the jumper anyway, so the results-oriented crowd can't complain. But then the Bulls try to run the same play a few possessions later and Rose just waives Hinrich away because ROSE CAN DO THIS, WHY MAKE IT COMPLICATED:
Don't mistake this for Hinrich bashing, please. This isn't about him. This is about making offense harder for yourself than it needs to be. You can have the layup, why take the detour first? This is the stuff that drives me crazy. Speaking of...
Hey, remember during the Milwaukee series when I suggested the Bulls are too preoccupied with running the offense and as a result play offense too slowly? Remember when I cited this play as an example?
Then remember a couple days ago when this report came out? Well, it happened again. And I, for one, am shocked. Shocked I tell you!
This is the stuff that drives me crazy.
6) Insane Kyrie Pass
I have a bit of a thing for passes that should receive more attention than they do. Take it away, Kyrie!
That combination of instinct, feel and trust is simply marvelous. No defense is stopping that.
My overall sentiment is this: the Bulls were up by 10 in the first quarter and not but 12 minutes later found themselves down by 10. That's a 20-point swing in 12 minutes. The offense has it's moments, but then it'll go five minutes without a bucket. Yes, some of that is because Pau Gasol is still out. Yes, some of that is because Mirotic isn't hitting shots. Yes, Thibs was limited in his options last night once Taj Gibson got tossed. No, it's not all Kirk Hinrich's fault. No, Cleveland's defense isn't this good, either.
Rose re-aggravating his stinger clearly affected him, he was clutching and grabbing at his hand the rest of the night. Rose was 5-7 in the first quarter. He was also 7-13 at one point. He finished 7-24. But I'll be damned if I'm going to blame injury on the Bulls' struggles. Nope. Not this time. Not this series. The Cavs, all things considered, might just be better.