Before the Bulls drilled the Nets, I moseyed over to NBA.com and was stunned to see that the Bulls were knocking on the door of being a top-five defensive team. They finished sixth after that Nets shellacking. This average Bulls team with almost a top-five defense? How the hell did this happen?
I took a brief dive into the numbers and noticed that one legitimate explanation is teams just couldn’t hit 3-pointers against the Bulls. The first half of the season the Bulls allowed 36.4 percent shooting from distance, which ranked in the bottom third of the league. But to their credit, they were in the top 10 of 3-point field goal attempts allowed.
After the All-Star break, though, the Bulls were 22nd in 3-point attempts allowed per game...but opponents shot 30.7 percent on those triples. That was the best mark in the league.
I don’t have the time to do a super deep dive and look at all these shots and who was taking them, so I can’t say for sure this was all luck. But there’s a pretty good chance a lot of this was luck. A glance at NBA.com’s tracking data shows opponents shot about 32 percent on “open” and “wide open” triples in the second half of the season (on over 23 attempts per game), and there’s been research done showing that 3-point defense is prone to a lot of randomness.
The last two games against the Magic and Nets definitely had an effect on these numbers (Brooklyn shot 3-of-33 from 3 for crying out loud), but there were other games where I know the Bulls caught some breaks. Specifically, the home wins over the Warriors and Jazz featured GSW shooting 6-of-30 from 3 and Utah shooting 7-of-25. And there were others.
The Bulls certainly deserve some credit for ratcheting up the defense down the stretch, but I’m still hesitant to give them too much credit. They went from 11th to sixth in defense thanks to those last two games, which makes them look much better, and we still saw them stink it up in several duds. The Celtics will be a tough test for the Bulls’ defense, and they’ll take a lot of treys (they were third in 3PA), so we’ll see if some of that 3-point defense luck can continue.