The NBA playoffs are all about adjustments. You come into a series with a general gameplan about how you’ll defend certain players and actions. You’ll know which sets you want to go to more often than others to exploit the opposing team’s defense. Over the course of a seven game series, the original gamplan will need adjusting at multiple points.
In a close series, such as this Boston and Chicago first round matchup, these can ultimately decide the winner. So far we’ve seen Celtics coach Brad Stevens make some outstanding adjustments from personnel to his offensive schemes. However, the same cannot be said for Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Defending Boston’s High Pick-and-Roll
During the first two games, Boston had no answer for Bulls center Robin Lopez and his activity on the glass. As a way to play him off the floor and mitigate his overall impact, Stevens needs to exploit his major weakness: his inability to defend in open space.
Over the course of games three and four, the Celtics made it a point to start their PnR action involving Lopez high above the three-point line knowing he’d have to come out of his comfort zone to defend Isaiah Thomas.
As it stands, the Bulls are defending the Thomas-Al Horford PnR by having their bigs hedge hard on the ball-handler, with the goal of forcing him to either pick up his dribble or pass back to the big. But by extending their screen as they have been, it provides Thomas the room needed to sliver around the Bulls bigs. And thus far, we haven’t seen Hoiberg adjust for this and change up his coverage.
Moreover, although Horford has been known to excel in the pick-and-pop, Stevens has altered the strategy for him. Instead of having Horford pop out to the three-point line or fifteen feet, Horford dove straight to the middle of the floor.
As we can see, by having Horford dive into the middle of the floor it causes the defense to collapse. As a result, with having four shooters surrounding Horford, when the defense collapses it allows him to kick it out to one of the open shooters. Hoiberg needs to account for this, and adjust, getting the Bulls rotations back to where they were in games one and two.
Bulls Revolving Door Of Point Guards
Isaiah Canaan, NBA Playoff starting point guard. That’s probably a sentence you never thought you’d read, but here we are.
Near the end of the second quarter Hoiberg put in Canaan after Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams proved again they had no business being on the floor. They were -21 tonight combined.
And it was with Canaan’s insertion into the lineup where the Bulls were able to climb back into the game before half, and then briefly take the lead in the third quarter. The lineup consisting of Canaan, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez were a +12 in 10 minutes of action.
However, when forced to put in a sub for Canaan at the end of the third quarter, Hoiberg’s decision, though a tough one, ultimately blew the game. With 3:04 remaining in the quarter, the Bulls were down 67-65 when Hoiberg decided to put in MCW to finish the quarter. The ensuing three plus minutes saw Thomas lead a 12-0 charge, and place the Celtics with a comfortable nine point lead heading into the final period that the Bulls couldn’t overcome.
While Hoiberg was able to make one adjustment in putting Canaan in the lineup, he failed to make a second; settling for MCW.
Point Jimmy, Finally
There’s no rule in the book saying you need a definitive point guard on the court at all times. The end of the third quarter should’ve ended with a lineup looking similar to this; Butler, Wade, Paul Zipser, Mirotic and Lopez.
At the start of the third quarter, we finally got Point Jimmy. With Fred making the move to start Canaan in the second half, the offense reverted to Butler handling the ball and initiating the offense. Hoiberg specifically went with a 1-2 PnR involving Canaan and Butler. Doing so, caused the Celtics to switch defensively, forcing Thomas to defend Butler.
Switching to this scheme is what propelled the Bulls back into the game, and allowing them to take a brief 65-63 lead in the third quarter. While this was a great adjustment on Hoiberg’s part, the fact that it took as long as it did to come to fruition is unfathomable.
Without Rajon Rondo in the fold, the Bulls lose a penetrator who can get inside the defense, shifting it from side-to-side and being able to locate the open spaces and teammates. Outside of Butler, there is no one else on the Bulls roster that has the ability to match that type of play. Putting the ball in Butler’s hands as the de facto point guard should’ve been done from the moment the Rondo news broke.
Timing is everything, and Hoiberg waiting as long as he did to make this adjustment likely cost the Bulls dearly.