It was a very good night on offense for the Chicago Bulls, who scored 119 points in their win against the Indiana Pacers. Chicago’s ‘pace and space’ didn’t execute the pace part to perfection, with only 6 fast break points, but they did a superb job of getting the “space” part down. Led by Nikola Mirotic and Lauri Markkanen the Bulls were lights out from three-point land, knocking down a franchise-record-tying 18 treys.
Chicago took advantage of an Indiana defense which is in the bottom of the league in terms of giving up and defending three-pointers. The Pacers allow 31.2 three-point attempts per game, 6th highest in the league, and their opponents shoot 37.1% on those attempts (10th highest in the NBA). Given the way Indy’s defense was structured, it was set up for Chicago to have a three-point barrage in this game.
The duo of Markkanen and Mirotic combined to go 13-25 from downtown and both displayed their abilities to stretch defenses with the three-ball. Let’s start with Markkanen. He scored a career high 32 points, shooting 11 of 17 from the field and added 7 rebounds. One thing which Chicago has been doing all season is putting Markkanen as a roll man in the PNR and having him pop out to the three-point line. The below play is another example of how Markkanen can punish teams for not rotating to him quick enough off a pick.
Niko and Lauri are killing the Pacers. pic.twitter.com/YZWjFdRuCJ— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 30, 2017
This pick and roll involves Markkanen, who is guarded by Damontis Sabonis, and Jerian Grant. Markkanen comes to the right side of Grant’s man, Joe Young, and sets a screen. Grant takes the screen and is instantly met by Sabonis, who ran up to stop the drive. It was a poor mistake by the Gonzaga product as it allowed Markkanen to move out to the top of the three-point line. Sabonis committed too much to Grant and was late getting back to his man, which he paid the price for. After catching the pass from Grant and with nobody around him, it was a simple catch and shoot three-pointer for the rookie.
Along with Markkanen’s big game were the 28 points for Mirotic, who knocked down 8 three-pointers and also had four assists.
Here’s one of Mirotic’s threes after the Bulls displayed fantastic ball movement:
It starts off with Bobby Portis setting a screen for Paul Zipser. The Pacers defending big man, which turns out to be Sabonis again, steps up and doubles Zipser. Meanwhile, Portis is rolling to the basket and it’s a simple bounce pass to him from Zipser. Portis catching the ball right near the restricted area causes the two Pacers defenders from the wing to come down and help out near the rim. This leaves both David Nwaba and Mirotic open on the corners. Portis makes the simple kick out pass to Nwaba who quickly swings it to Denzel Valentine. As soon as Valentine catches the ball, he attacks the Indiana defense and drives to his right, drawing two defenders in the process. Seeing Mirotic open in the other corner, Valentine makes a good cross court pass to the big man. Bojan Bogdanovic, who is guarding Mirotic, is too far away to make a real closeout. In one smooth motion, Mirotic catches the ball, rises up, and knocks down the three-point shot.
Chicago went with lineups starring Markkanen and Mirotic on the court at the same time, one they look to be experimenting with more. Below, Mirotic is posting up on Sabonis while Markknanen is being guarded by Myles Turner.
Lauri to Niko, Niko back to Lauri another 3. pic.twitter.com/eHcjolIdTx— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 30, 2017
Markkanen makes the simple entry pass in the post to Niko, who takes one dribble to his right and is bumped out of the post. He then improvises by stepping back and pump faking a shot, forcing Sabonis to closeout. This also forces Turner to drop down into the paint, leaving Markkanen open. Mirotic kicks it out to the rook, who steps into an easy three-pointer.
It was a good night for these two stretch bigs, who showed their ability to burn teams from deep.