Another nightmarish defensive first half pretty much did the Bulls in on this night in Indiana. In their last three contests, the Bulls have allowed opponents to jump out to halves of 55+ points, setting the tone for the remainder of those games. Obviously that’s not a winning recipe, which is why the Bulls find themselves on a three-game losing streak.
There were major concerns regarding the defense heading into the season, and those concerns are very much coming to light just six games into the season.
It starts with the pick-and-roll defense. Fred Hoiberg’s plan, thus far, appears to be comfortable with switching most any spread pick-and-roll. This, over the course of the past few games, has led to far too many mismatches. Whether it’s Rajon Rondo pinned down by a 4 or 5, or Robin Lopez being left to over-extend on the perimeter — it’s all bad.
On this night, the Pacers cruised to a 111-94 victory primarily due to feasting on pick-and-rolls. Even Paul George getting ejected late in the third quarter didn’t matter. Indiana had six players reach double figures in the game. Basically everyone who saw non-garbage time minutes had themselves a pretty nice evening. As a team, Indy shot 53.5 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from deep.
Indiana just got wherever they wanted en route to racking up 27 assists on 46 makes. A steady diet of 3s and shots at the rim is what every team strives for, and they achieved just that. Plus, on a larger scale, Jeff Teague breaking out of his slump is a nice sign for Indy. He finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting (3-5 from deep).
For the Bulls, the niceness of that 3-0 start doesn’t feel so nice anymore. Granted this game was a back-to-back coming off the heels of an emotional contest against the Knicks. It was part schedule loss, part ‘defense is optional tonight’ loss. The concern, though, is whether this team is even capable of playing passable levels of defense for long stretches.
Rajon Rondo appears wholly disinterested in defense. And as a matter of fact, the same could be said for his place on offense once the ball leaves his hands. He doesn’t move, doesn’t cut and certainly isn’t a threat to shoot. He finished with 9 points (4-11), 5 assists and 4 turnovers. I just don’t see where he provides this team any value.
Look, I’m not trying to single out the guy on a night where the entire team was flat. Dwyane Wade looked very much like a 34-year-old that should probably be a candidate for rest on back-to-backs moving forward. Jimmy Butler had a decent night efficiency-wise (5-7 from the field, 5-6 from the stripe), but he had a team-high 6 turnovers.
I will say Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott contributed nicely, offensively at least. Portis definitely played his best game of the season by notching 16 points, which looks a lot better when you consider he only had 12 total points on the season coming into tonight.
But in the end, no one played well when it actually mattered. These nights happen in the NBA.
However, I just can’t shake the defensive breakdowns. What has Hoiberg done to earn our faith in him correcting these issues? He himself said the team will look to play a more aggressive style of defense this year. In theory, it’s fine. In practice, Rondo and Wade aren’t going balls-to-the-walls on a nightly basis.
Looking ahead, the Bulls play four games against Eastern Conference opponents next week, including a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday in Atlanta and Miami, respectively. Hopefully the team regroups and figures out how to get a stop or two. The offense should get better, but the defense is still very much a work in progress.