After a thrilling victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, the Chicago Bulls were sent back down to earth very quickly. Chicago started off well but ultimately fell short to the Phoenix Suns in a 113-105 loss in the Valley of the Sun to fall to 3-11 on the season. It was mostly on their defense, or lack thereof.
Phoenix had a great night offensively, shooting a whopping 50.6% from the field. They were able to put up 113 points despite shooting a poor percentage from three-point land at 25.9% (7 of 27 attempts). The reason so was due how easily the Suns were able to get into the paint and get easy looks at the basket. In the end Phoenix scored 64 points in the paint, which accounted for more than half of their points total. Getting into the painted area has been a strong suit for this team. The Suns are 7th in the NBA in terms of points in the paint, with an average of 46.7 per game. But even this was a huge output by their standards.
The two players who gave Chicago trouble all night were Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. The duo scored a combined 42 points with the latter scoring a game high 27 points on 13 of 20 shooting along with 7 rebounds. Booker gave Chicago problems on the perimeter, with Warren on the inside, creating a “pick your poison” scenario for the young Bulls defense. Warren especially used movement off the ball gave Chicago problems.
(0:10 - 0:22) Here the Suns use the decoy of Booker to confuse Chicago’s defense and create an opening for Warren. The play begins with Warren, who is being guarded by Denzel Valentine, near the three-point line on the left side of the court. He’s looking to get an entry pass into Greg Monroe in the high post. As soon as Monroe gets the ball and faces up, Warren is on the move towards the free-throw line. He comes with the intention of screening for Booker, who is coming from the other side. This is where things gets messy. As Booker comes towards the free throw line Justin Holiday, who is guarding the guard, is not sticking with him all and is a few feet off him and inside the paint. Jerian Grant, however, is right at the spot where Warren is suppose to set the screen. Grant being there seems to cause some confusion between Holiday and Valentine as in who is going to switch with who. As soon as Booker gets the screen from Warren, he dashes to the three-point line. Warren chooses to roll to the basket. In this scenario, the logical play would be to have Holiday and Valentine switch given the former is already sagging in the paint. Instead, both players choose to go towards Booker, leaving Warren wide open near the hoop. It leads to an easy dunk for the former NC State man.
(0:52 - 1:00) This is another prime example of Warren’s hustle and energy resulting in free points for the Suns. The sequence begins with Mike James initially blowing by Kris Dunn on a drive from the right side. Dunn does a great job recovering and with some help defense by Holiday, is able to force Jame to alter his shot mid air and he misses the layup off the rim. But out of nowhere comes Warren and he cleans up the miss with another slam dunk. This resulted due to Chicago’s lack of rotation over on the drive. When Holiday went to cover the rim, Valentine rotates over to the corner, leaving Bobby Portis one of two choices. Either stick with Alex Len, who is at the free throw line or rotate over to Warren. He choose the first option and it backfires. When it comes time to rebound the basketball, he’s out of position and fails to box out Warren, who blows by Portis and scores.
Given how young the Bulls are, there will be some growing pains in terms of defensive development. They have been playing well defensively to start the season and in turn has helped them stay competitive in games. This game may have been an off game from their perspectives but there are some key lessons to be learned in terms of defensive switching and rotating over to help.