After beating the Hornets, the Chicago Bulls now have dropped two straight and have made that win look like an anomaly in their descent down the Eastern Conference standings. The Bulls again had a rough start against the Washington Wizards, who are one of the hottest teams in basketball and quickly fell down double digits. To the Bulls credit, they battled back and came narrowly short in a 110-107 defeat. But once again it was the play of the Washington guards, particularly John Wall, which gave Chicago problems all night.
Wall must really like to play against the Bulls considering how well he has done against them throughout his career. The former Kentucky guard has averaged 19.2 points over the course of his career against Chicago and he has taken it up a notch this year, averaging 24.5 points along with 11.5 assist every time he plays the Bulls. This game was no different as Wall was the main catalyst for the Wizards offense, nothing a career-high 20 assists, while scoring 14 points. It was a rough shooting night for him (4 of 13 from the field) but he certainly showed his worth with finding his teammates for key baskets. Especially down the stretch when the Wizards were trying to hold the lead.
After a tough fightback, the Bulls had finally gotten it down the Washington lead to two. But they had a tough task in front of them, stopping Wall from picking them apart. The last time these two teams met, Wall used a pick and roll to get into a mismatch against Robin Lopez and used it to his advantage.
Again, Wall starts off at the right side of the three-point line and was guarded by Jimmy Butler. Then came Marcin Gortat to set a screen and open the doors of chaos on the Bulls defense. This is a play that the Wizards run a lot with Wall averaging around 11.2 possessions per game where he is the ball handler in a PNR scenario (stats via NBA.com). It’s also a very smart play because it gives Washington exactly what they want. The ball in their best players hands and allow him to create plays/score against guys who simply can’t guard him.
Right after Gortat set the screen, Wall was switched on Robin Lopez and it was clear mismatch. Anytime you move Lopez out of the paint and against a quick guard like Wall, it spells trouble for Chicago. Lopez did his best and was able to keep the guard at a steady dribble near the free throw line.
Recognizing the mismatch, Butler got over the screen and sprinted over to try and get in front of Wall. Butler got to him in a hurry but there was one problem: Lopez was still facing Wall and Gortat was rolling to the basket unattended. At the exact moment got to Wall, he fired a pass to his center and it was an easy layup for Washington.
The Bulls struggle with speedy guards mostly due to the fact that their own guards aren’t good defenders (other than MCW) and their bigs can’t keep up with them on the switch. Their trouble with dealing with Wall and the pick and roll tonight was another example of that fact.
Questionable late game decision making from Jimmy Butler
Chicago did have a chance to win this game and like always, the Ball was in Jimmy Butler’s hands. Chicago needed a three to tie and against Kelly Oubre with around 10 seconds left, he needed some magic. The result was opposite of magical was the possession ended with Butler taking a three while trying to draw contact.
Not sure what this was. Butler misses tie attempt at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/EtqvpfAMFT— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) March 18, 2017
It was a weird possession and one the Bulls could certainly have drawn up better, though Butler disagreed:
Butler on last shot: "We executed the play pretty decently. Tell you the truth, I thought it was going in."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 18, 2017
We have seen that cringe-worthy last possession from the Bulls before and it likely won’t stop with Hoiberg’s inability to come up with good ATO plays and the players themselves having questionable decision making at the end of games. Having no spacing that gives their best players a chance to operate doesn’t help either.
Great game from Robin Lopez
Other than Butler’s 28 points, Robin Lopez really had himself a game. He scored 25 points on 12 of 16 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds. Amidst the downward trend that the Bulls find themselves in, Lopez has been a bright spot. In fact, he has been a great acquisition this offseason. His contract is great too. Chicago doesn’t and shouldn’t expect Robin Lopez to put up 25 and 12 every night but it was good to see him go off offensively. But he can’t be the second leading scorer on a team because that’s just not his game and Chicago can’t rely on that.
Also: Free Jerian Grant.