The only thing consistent about the Bulls’ up and down 2016-17 season was their aversion to taking three point shots. Chicago attempted just 22.3 triples per game, the second fewest per game in the league. Their three point attempt rate, which neutralizes pace, did not do the Bulls any favors: the Bulls took 25.6% of field goals beyond the arc, good for 28th in the NBA.
Their reluctance to shoot threes came from an inability to make threes. Chicago was dead last in the league in three point percentage before a hot streak over the final ten games of the season mercifully lifted them to 34% overall shooting for the year, good for 24th in the NBA.
The Bulls began their postseason run similarly to how they played most of the season. They missed their first 11 three point shots and made just 2/14 in the first half. Before Bobby Portis broke the drought with a catch and shoot three from the corner midway through the second quarter, it seemed like the Bulls might go the entire series without hitting a long range shot.
But the Bulls, to their credit, did not allow themselves to become discouraged after beginning the game so cold. In fact, they did the opposite. Chicago’s three point rate in the first half was 27%. In the second half, they took a full 30% of their shots from three point land.
And for their perseverance, the Bulls were rewarded. In the second half, Chicago converted 50% of their threes. Jimmy Butler shot 3/5, Bobby Portis made both of his attempts, and Jerian Grant added a deep heave to push the Bulls to a four point lead in crunch time.
Go back and watch all the three point shots the Bulls took in game one and you will see that the only difference between the two halves were the results, not the process. Save for a couple of ill advised attempts from Wade and Rondo, the majority of the Bulls three point shots were high quality looks. Eight of their 23 attempts came from the corners on relatively open looks. Nearly all of the threes were catch and shoot opportunities.
The Bulls did not let themselves get discouraged after an impossibly bad start. They knew they were just getting unlucky, and continued to hunt open shots within the offensive flow. Their luck swung hard the opposite direction after halftime, and with their confidence to fire unfazed, they were able to take advantage.
The Bulls are going to need to keep on shooting in order to stay alive in this series. Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser need to keep taking threes to create space in the paint for their teammates. Even when the shots aren’t going down, just their threat is enough to contort the defense in the Bulls favor. And if they keep shooting, eventually they’ll start scoring.