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Shots were still Available for the Bulls in Game Two, But For The Wrong Players

On Pau Gasol's troubles. Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich's openness. And more.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Thibodeau is 4-5 all-time in Game 2s. This should come as a surprise to exactly nobody. 4-5 isn't a horrible mark, but it pales in comparison to Thibodeau's impressive 6-3 mark in Game 1s. The Bulls under Thibodeau, generally, are really good at jumping out ahead of their opponent in the playoffs but are appreciably weaker once said opponent has familiarized itself with Thibodeau's patterns and strategy. Now, none of this is to say that Cleveland's 106-91 Game 2 dismantling of the Bulls is all Thibodeau's fault. He could be partly to blame -- but we won't go there. Although, Cavs' head coach David Blatt -- whose coaching this season didn't exactly blow anyone's doors off -- was smart enough to realize starting Mike Miller in Game 1 was a complete misstep on his part and corrected his mistake by Game 2, which is where we'll begin.

1) Shots Are Still Available, But For Bad Players

Of course, simply by looking at the 91 total points the Bulls scored in Game 2, one would probably think Cleveland morphed into the Milwaukee Bucks. Except, well, nope. Not at all true. Cleveland did make some changes in an attempt to take away Pau Gasol in the pick-and-pop. The thing is, though, is that by taking away a really good shot for the Bulls, Cleveland instead gave up more desirable shots -- corner threes and dunks / layups -- in the process. This shouldn't be hard to understand, the Bulls got exactly what each and every team in this league wants: a defense actively attempting to take away shots from the midrange. And in doing so, Cleveland exposed themselves to some of the more profitable shots in basketball, like the corner three, for example:

The Cavs were dedicating an extra third defender -- in this case, Kyrie Irving -- to pick-and-pop all night. Which, in the example above, didn't hurt either team because both of them are trying to ignore the player standing alone in the corner. This was not an accident, and it happened many times over throughout the night:

(This one is my favorite -- even though it is not a pick-and-pop scenario -- because you can see Kirk Hinrich does not expect the ball. Like, he's not even in a basketball position, he's literally just standing there arms to the side. Must be all that Basketball IQ)

Yep, the destiny the Cavs chose was not something anywhere near as simple as benching Miller for Tristan Thompson. What they chose was the smart, obvious route: make Hinrich and Joakim Noah beat you. And to Hinrich's credit, he's one of the few Bulls who played well last night, but you see, Kirk Hinrich can't ever win Chicago a basketball game with his scoring. I mean, he couldn't do that in the regular season and it sure as hell isn't happening now. Mike Dunleavy's good enough to be the actual difference in a game. Same applies to Nikola Mirotic. Same applies to Aaron Brooks. Same applies to Tony Snell, but to a lesser extent.

We've seen all those guys be the difference in games before. None of them get the Kirk Hinrich treatment on offense. And again, Kirk played about as well as to be expected last night, yet it couldn't have mattered less. None of this is Kirk's fault, by the way. Even he seemed to recognize that his ability had betrayed him about halfway through the season. He knows he's not a threat anymore, so he actually tries to stay out of the way. It's the best (and least) he can do. And, also, no amount of defense he could ever play makes up for the Bulls consistently playing 4 on 5.

As for Cleveland, they're not all of a sudden turning defense into a strength. They're just not guarding Chicago's weaknesses:

In the example above, Noah needs to turn this scenario into points. This can't be an empty possession (which it was). Two 7-footers against one Tristan Thompson and one LeBron James, but of course, nothing to show for it. That's an advantageous spot for Noah, it should be a layup, free throws, something. I guess, at least, Noah actually tried an attempt at offense here. Unlike this example below:

Here, Noah has a free lane to the hoop. Kendrick freaking Perkins is protecting the paint! Kendrick Perkins! Yet he holds the ball, literally waits for his defender to get back to him, and tries to set a screen. Noah was open for a good three seconds, and by open, I mean left alone. Rose has no choice but to give the ball up, he's being double-teamed (just like in that other example). And again, shots are available, but the wrong players are in the places to take / make them.

2) Moving LeBron on Dunleavy, Mozgov on Noah

Also for the Cavs team defense, David Blatt figured out that LeBron playing free safety is pretty dumb when you've got a stout rim protector in Timofey Mozgov. All the better, that stout rim protector doesn't need to guard Noah, either:

There's Mozgov sliding over, forcing Rose to make a tough kick-out pass, while Noah is doing about the only thing he can do decently these days: setting a screen. Nothing fruitful comes of that screen, though, and it's just another possession where the Bulls played 4 on 5.

3) Oh, Pau

No pictures. No videos. Anyone with eyes could see that Gasol absolutely killed the Bulls last night. It's a shame, too, because I believe Pau's played really well in these playoffs. His defensive metrics, per and Synergy, suggest Gasol was wonderful at defending shots around the rim against Milwaukee (shout out The Hungarian Jordan). However, these Cavs are worlds better on offense than those Bucks, and last night Gasol was woeful in every imaginable way.

Have a strong feeling we're going to be doing an extensive review of Gasol getting manhandled by Thompson on the offensive glass at some point. Brace yourselves. It's coming.

4) Derrick Rose Can't Get To The Foul Line

Before you get all conspiracy on me, let's say this: Derrick Rose is terrible at drawing fouls. While in flight, he'll subconsciously move his body away from contact more often than not. Part of me thinks that's because Rose is so intent on finishing the layup. But bottom line is that he doesn't know how to sell a call. Or furthermore, he doesn't know how to sell contact. At any rate, this still seems...odd:

5) Hats Off, Iman Shumpert

I'll be the first to admit: I don't think highly of Iman Shumpert as an all-around basketball player. Guy has the tools but I wasn't sold on him. I'm still not, but I've gotta give credit where credit is due. Shumpert's 8-17 in two games from three-point range. Yes, a lot of those looks have been wide open, and I already discussed the Bulls' defensive game plan. But when Shumpert's hitting shots like these, you've just gotta tip your cap:

Hopefully, Shumpert's groin injury that he suffered in the third quarter of Game 2 is nothing serious. Would truly hate to see another Cavs player go down.

6) Hack-A-Noah?

I mentioned Noah's free throw shooting after Game 4 of the Milwaukee series. But he's now 1-14 from the charity stripe this postseason. I mean, how much more unplayable can the guy get? I'm serious, if Blatt is smart, he'll go Hack-a-Noah. I would. How could you not at this point?