There was no dead coach bounce for the Bulls in Indianapolis on Tuesday night as they fell to the Pacers 96-90 and newly-minted head coach Jim Boylen was unable to end the Bulls losing streak. No matter how loud Boylen clapped or deeply he squatted, the same group of players who had lost the previous six games went on to drop a seventh.
Gauging The Spirit-o-meter
John Paxson sited a lack of energy and spirit as a key justification for firing Fred Hoiberg and installing the energized and spirited Jim Boylen to run the team. While Paxson’s frustration with Fred extended to off court situations (post-game Boylen said spirit was good!), I was on the lookout for how to measure this injection of ruach on the court.
The Bulls did have one of their better defensive performances of the season, holding the Pacers to a 96 offensive rating, a mark that would rank first in the league by a huge margin. The Bulls deserve credit for their effort. While the injured Victor Oladipo leaves a gigantic void on the Pacers offense, Indiana’s offensive rating in the eight games they’ve played without Oladipo is 108, right in line with their season average. The Bulls played a brand of team defense that made Oladiplo’s absence really sting for the Pacers.
The Pacers shot a lowly 27.3% on threes and managed to attempt just 22 shots from beyond the arc. While Indy is loathe to shoot the long ball this year, the Bulls to this point have been one of the worst teams at preventing three point shots. Tuesday, Chicago was crisp in their defensive rotations. There were several possessions where all five players on the court gave multiple efforts to rotate and close out on shooters.
Can already see the Bulls are playing with so much more defensive energy and intensity. Have already had multiple stops this game. This was a great clip where they didn't allow a paint touch to the Pacers. Turner has a mismatch after the P/R switch but LaVine comes over to double pic.twitter.com/wc924EXUr9— Ryan (@ry_nguyen) December 5, 2018
Even Jabari Parker feigned interest on the defensive end, at times running at the arc and sliding down to protect the rim. Jabari will never be a good defender, but if he played with a little more effort he could be alright.
He did let Doug McDermott waltz to the rim for his only bucket in what I’m sure was a heated revenge game for a member of the #AmesMafia
Another way the Bulls were able to hold the Pacers offense in check was by cleaning up the defensive boards. The Pacers rebounded 23% of their missed field goals, compared to the 27% they typically coral over the course of the season. Jabari, who finished the game with eight rebounds, appeared dedicated to boxing out his assignment and actually jumping when the ball was in his general vicinity.
The Lauri Effect
Lauri Markkanen made his return to the starting lineup and made his presence felt throughout the night. Markkanen scored a team-high 21 points and was not shy about unloading from three. Markkanen was 5/13 from beyond the arc and provided the Bulls with a totally new dimension on offense.
Opposing defenses figured out the easiest way to stop the Bulls was to trap Zach LaVine and dare any of the other sub-par shooters on the floor to beat them. Indiana was committed to this strategy and largely succeeded, holding Lavine to 13 points on 15 field goal attempts. But LaVine took what the defense gave him and found a wide open Markkanen several times during the game. Three of LaVine’s game-high nine assists were Markkanen three pointers, and several more of Lauri’s three point attempts came off of passes from a driving LaVine.
As teams start to remember how great of a shooter Markkanen is, they’ll need to rethink their commitment to blitzing LaVine and concede the occasional drive to the former dunk champion.
Boylen’s first rotation
Neither Robin Lopez nor Cristiano Felicio left the bench in Indy, leaving 100% of the non-Carter minutes at center to Lauri Markkanen. While I do agree that Lauri should get minutes at center both to exploit certain match-ups and to just gain experience at the position, I did not love the decision to play him so long at the five in this game. At no point in the game did Carter, Markkanen, and Parker all share the court. I know, Jabari is not a small forward, but against a team like Indianapolis who lack a wing that could punish Jabari, I wish Boylen had given it a shot.
At center, Markkanen struggled to prevent Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis from establishing deep post position when matched up alone against either player. Markkanen also did not serve as much of a deterrent to Indianapolis’s guards, yielding lightly challenged layups on a handful of plays.
Lauri may still be getting his sea legs after missing two months of basketball, and we could see him add strength and awareness as the season develops. Markkannen played a lot overall, at 32 minutes well over the prescribed ‘minutes restriction’ communicated pre-game. But if tonight shows anything, it’s that Lauri’s true position is at power forward. Besides, Lauri really benefits from playing with a big man who can pass and set screens like both Wendell Carter and Robin Lopez can.
Back at small forward, Justin Holiday played a game-high 41 minutes in this one! Holiday did manage an efficient 5/11 from the field and made half of his six three point attempts. But he did force some ugly looks and inspired the highest amount of “what is he doing!” entries into my game notes log. If Jabari Parker isn’t the answer at small forward, perhaps give a couple of Holiday’s minutes to Chandler Hutchison, who saw played just two minutes in the second half.
Or if you’re feeling really frisky, leave Holiday in with Parker, Markkanen, and Carter, shift LaVine down a position, and go without a true point guard. The Bulls basically played without one tonight anyway, as Ryan Arcidiacano recorded zero points, one rebound and one assist in his 29 minutes. Cam Payne and Shaq Harrison had a few buckets, but I don’t think the Bulls exactly benefited from their floor general abilities in their time on the court.
Get weird Jim! You’ve got the job for next year anyway, why not have some fun!