After starting out flat in the first quarter, the Chicago Bulls overcame a double digit fourth quarter deficit against the Indiana Pacers to tie the game at 95 with around five minutes left after Michael Carter-Williams scored a layup plus a foul. Paul George responded with a jump shot, and Jimmy Butler retaliated with a layup, and it looked like the Bulls and Pacers were in for another fun finish like the game on Monday night. But that wasn’t the case, as the Bulls offense sputtered like a broken car engine, allowing the Pacers to go on a 14-4 run to close the game and win 111-101.
The four points Chicago scored in the final 4:50 of the game were all scored by Dwyane Wade who finished with 20 on 8 of 18 shooting. Like in usual late game situations, the Bulls went to Wade and Butler late, but they just couldn’t cash in. It was a combination of the lineup put out by Fred Hoiberg as well as crucial mental mistakes by the Bulls.
Hoiberg has been pretty bad this year when it comes to lineup combinations. There are numerous times where we have seen a Bulls lineup that either can’t defend together , space the floor an inch offensively, or both. Mistakes like putting Bobby Portis together with Nikola Mirotic has costed the Bulls games down the stretch. To Hoiberg’s credit, he has made some minor improvements. One of them being not playing Rajon Rondo late down the stretch of games and putting in guys like Michael Carter-Williams to help shore up the defensive side of the ball. Taking out Rondo also has improved the flow of the late game offense from stuck in the mud to semi-stagnant at times.
But in this late game situation, putting in MCW wasn’t the right move. The Bulls need better perimeter defense, but they also needed points. And MCW-Wade-Butler-Niko-Felicio didn’t space the floor even with the 3-point threat of Mirotic. When your three guards don’t have to be guarded at the perimeter, it makes kick out threes from Butler and Wade very hard to execute.
Doug McDermott could have been useful in that situation and Hoiberg should have used him more in the last five minutes of the game. McDermott was the only reason why Chicago was in the game in the first place, keeping the Bulls afloat with a big first half where he scored 10 points and knocked down two shots from deep. But then the Bulls inexplicably went away from him in the second half and it costed them in terms of spacing and getting good shots when it mattered the most.
Carter-Williams also committed a very bad clear path foul with around a minute left and the Bulls down 105-101. That gave the Pacers two shots and the ball, which they used to ice the game. That foul by MCW and a offensive foul by Butler were the crushing mistakes down the stretch.
Given the Bulls commitment to crashing the glass, it leaves them exposed in terms of transition defense. In the video, four guys crash to the glass and a long rebound leaves Carter-Williams on the wrong side of a three on one. It forced him to make a choice to either try and get back or make the foul and risk a clear path foul. Carter-Williams chose wrong and it helped the Pacers pull away from the Bulls.
When the game is close in the 4th, the Bulls will obviously have the ball in Butler and Wade’s hands. But Hoiberg needs to do better with his lineups to help give his two stars some firepower on the offensive end. Especially when Chicago is trying to play catch up.
Cristiano Felico has been freed
The only positive from this game was the play of backup center Cristiano Felicio. He scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds with half of them coming on the offensive end. Felicio is proving to be a very solid presence on the glass and is developing his game as a roll man in the PNR game. His chemistry with Wade has been talked about and noticed. Thanks to Felicio, the bench unit has a solid rock in the front court that they can rely on to help protect the rim and clean the boards.
Rajon Rondo has probably lost his starting job
After a horrid first half, Hoiberg decided that Rondo shouldn’t play a minute in the second half. He wasn’t wrong about that decision. Rondo was horrible in the first half, only registering a single rebound and assist while posting a +/- of -20. This was a risky move by Hoiberg considering that Rondo has had a history of not reacting well to benchings. His blow-up with Jim Boylen against Dallas this year could be just a preview of the problems that this benching could cause. With Hoiberg uncommitted to who will start against Milwaukee, one can only hope that if Rondo is benched, he will take it the right way.