RIP Playoff Fred Hoiberg. He was murdered by an injury to Rajon Rondo, who not only was by-far the best-playing PG option, he was also a coach on the floor. By the time the Bulls found themselves in an early game 4 hole after seeing Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams in their usual failure mode, Hoiberg went to little-used Isaiah Canaan. Canaan wound up starting the second half and playing 34 minutes, and he’s getting the start in game 5 from Hoiberg:
I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet. Some right over half court. I thought his initial ball pressure was good. Isaiah we feel is a good fit right now for what he brings, especially on the defensive end and a guy that last night knocked down shots. Hopefully, he'll continue on with that, but that's what it's all about.
And here was Canaan self-scouting:
We’ve both got a low center of gravity. As quick as he can move, I can move just as quick as him.
Canaan is certainly shorter and quicker than Grant or MCW, though very few players have the combination Thomas has (and Canaan isn’t one of them). Canaan certainly made a defensive impact in game 4, but his effectiveness waned as the game went on.
NBA.com credits Canaan as forcing 1/8 shooting from the Celtics as the primary defender, and the Bulls were a +11 in his minutes. Doing some longform tracking, it looks like Thomas went 1-4 with 3 FTs in the first half. His early 3rd quarter stint against Canaan was especially poor, missing one shot and having 3 turnovers.
Smart defense leads to a CANAAN-BALL! pic.twitter.com/MT1yWZNLUx— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 24, 2017
When Thomas re-entered the 3rd quarter for his second stint at around the 5-minute mark, that’s when he took over the game.
Thomas started that scoring binge by going 2-3 with Canaan on him. Or more accurately, getting screened off of him, and I’m guessing why that’s not picked up in the tracking:
To give Canaan some more credit, he had been on the court the entire quarter after not having played for the past couple months.
And in the 4th when Canaan was on him, Thomas wasn’t as spectacular but still effective enough, his team having a +7 margin while Thomas individually went 3-6 for 7 points with a single assist and this turnover, a steal by Canaan. Neither Lopez or Felicio played that 4th quarter which made for a bad 2nd line of defense, but that’s a whole different story (which we’ll have!).
This is all to say...Canaan hasn’t been known as a good defender, or player, for most of his career. But he does look to have the physical tools to give him a better chance than Grant or MCW have shown to have this series.
I probably still would stick with Grant, who’s a better offensive player, but I get Fred’s straw-grasping here. I’m not sure it’ll pay off in game 5 though, and instead expect Thomas to have another huge night.