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The Bulls defense was lucky in Game 5, and they still lost

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‘HopeTheyMiss Hoiball defense’ worked...to a point

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics went 9/40 from three in Game 5. It’s astonishing in itself that they are taking so many three-pointers. It’s simply not good defense to allow that many to be attempted, as Will Gottlieb of the Athletic warned after game 1.

For the Celtics, a major strength during the regular season was their 3-point shooting. They averaged 33.4 3-point attempts and 12 makes per game during the season. In Game 1, the Celtics attempted 38 3-pointers and hit 14. During the regular season, the Bulls were able to limit 3-point attempts, allowing only 25.9 per game, good for ninth-best in the league.

After 5 games now, the Celtics are averaging 37 threes per contest.

They’re only hitting them at a 32% clip, helped by the paltry 22.5% performance on Wednesday. If you subject yourself to watching all 40 attempts, there were more than a few that were wide-open. What was really glaring was them leaving the corner:

Not all were, of course. Jae Crowder had his usual bizarre quick-trigger and Gerald Green had two PUJITs (pull-up jumper, in transition) before getting yanked to the bench. Isaiah Thomas went 1-10 but he rarely takes a set, open three. Isaiah Cannaan did a good job not getting called on foul-baiting moves from Thomas, and they resulted in some poor misses. That said, the Bulls undoubtedly got some luck there too considering how good of a shot-maker Thomas usually is.

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What doesn’t help is the lineups that are out there, as documented by Rodger Sherman of The Ringer:

in the 87th game — a pivotal Game 5 in a surprisingly tied series against the Boston Celtics — coach Fred Hoiberg tried lineups he’d never played together all year. Of the 18 lineups he played in Game 5, only three were among the top 250 he used during the regular season. For 26 minutes of a pivotal game, he played 15 lineups that had never seen the court for more than three minutes together during the season. Most had probably never played together at all.

With Hoiberg scrambling to find competency and thus going all the way down his bench to the likes of Canaan and Anthony Morrow, there’s a total lack of continuity which no doubt degrades the awareness and execution of defensive rotations.

Again, limiting threes was something the Bulls defense did well in during the season. They also got very lucky down the stretch (and played some tank-tacular opponents) to get their defense overall to the mark of 6th best in the league.

Some of that luck continued in Game 5. If you look at the shots, especially after taking away Thomas’s and Horford’s (who was 2-4 from distance) attempts, it’s quite the tightrope the Bulls defense was walking. Those mentioned corner attempts? The Celtics shot 4/13. But did get this one from Horford:

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The crazy thing is that the Bulls ‘hope they miss’ strategy somewhat worked! Through three quarters they had a 1-point lead into the 4th, in a game where it looked like their defense was getting absolutely carved up.

We all know what happened after that, the perception of a porous defense became reality...though it wasn’t the Celtics outside shooting progressing to their mean: they missed all 6 three pointers they took in that final period, yet still outscored Chicago 29-16.