The Bulls played a pretty fantastic 3 quarters and change in Indiana on Wednesday night. It was a Hoiballian dream of ball movement, three point shooting, and offensive penetration with sound decision-making from the likes of Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine (this may have been Lauri Markkanen’s worst game though).
Up until the 7:15 mark of the 4th, the Bulls were over 50% shooting overall, 40% from three, and had 18 assists on their 38 field goals. And then...
Bulls led 92-79 with 7:14 left and then went 1-for-10 with 2 FTs and four turnovers. Pacers closed with 19-4 run.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 7, 2017
The one make was a Dunn take and finish, that was pretty good! The rest was obviously a big damned mess. Likely more appropriate for a more full look at every possession, but a lot of it was the Pacers remembering they’re in the NBA and some of it being Dunn and Valentine being guys you can’t really trust with the ball.
Specifically the last try though, with the Bulls down two with 13 seconds remaining, and whatever the hell Valentine is doing, very casually
And Markkanen misses the game winning attempt. The Bulls blow this game. The players look devastated. pic.twitter.com/HHsu62fwhz— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 7, 2017
After the game, Kris Dunn acknowledged to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic what we could all see: they didn’t know what they were doing.
Dunn also agreed with the assessment that the Bulls tense up and play tight when the game’s on the line. And he had a telling answer that shed some light on part of what ails this team in these late-game moments. “Some of us, this is our first time being in these tight games,” he said. “We just got to work on execution. Once we do that, I think everything will be a lot smoother. That was the big thing, down the stretch it wasn’t smooth. We didn’t know what play we wanted to run.”
Read that last sentence again. The Bulls didn’t know what play they wanted to run. There’s a lot that these Bulls get a pass for, and rightfully so. They’re undermanned and outmatched. But to not know what play they’re running? That’s awful, made worse only by the fact that it seems it’s become a routine occurrence.
Indeed! Though in more desperate circumstances (and in both situations: no timeouts remaining), the Bulls had similar issues with late-game bewilderment in that last-second Denver loss, again starring Valentine, who in this case didn’t even get a shot off.
If anything, look at the difference between the confusion of the players on the court versus the madness happening on the Bulls bench.
(kill sound on this before playing, sorry for the YouTube I grabbed, heh)
Bulls late-game confusion example (please disable sound sorry) pic.twitter.com/yI2w7yQ7k2— BlogABull.com (@BullsBlogger) December 7, 2017
As our resident record-keeper Mike from Illinois found, this was now the Bulls fourth time in 21 games under Hoiberg where they’ve blown a 14-point or better lead entering the fourth quarter to lose the game. Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls were 71-1 in these situations.
Fred Hoiberg frequently touts his practices, but what are they doing if not preparing for these kinds of situations? The NBCSports post-game show commented on it being a factor of inexperience, but composure shouldn’t only be something picked up through late in-game situations, but preparation in these vaunted film sessions. This was an issue with the first 2 years of The Hoiberg Route too, just in those cases they had Jimmy Butler to bail them out.
You could reason that with no stars like Butler, it’s not Hoiberg’s job to get to late-game execution before first simply getting any coherent play and effort from a young bad roster like this. But Hoiberg himself reminded us last year:
The first thing Larry Brown told me when I signed my contract with the Pacers (in 1995), he doesn't coach effort," Hoiberg said. "It's about putting a game plan together. Guys have got to get ready to go out and play a game and get yourself prepared to go out and play together and give an honest effort.
"That's what we have to do. We have to prepare the same way every night, regardless of who we're playing and go out and execute and hopefully play together."
Getting a bunch of young players, motivated by earning a second contract with some who are lucky to be in an NBA rotation, to play hard is literally the least Hoiberg can do. Having the team prepared is another bare-minimum requirement that isn’t being met.