Tonight was my first appearance at a Bulls game all season. They were free, I swear, and though I did pay for in-arena concessions I did also get to enjoy a fun performance from a young rebuilding team. A team that kicked the Bulls ass tonight.
The Atlanta Hawks came into Chicago and in one of the few games all year where the Bulls were favored, they instead lost by twenty to a 121-101 final.
In what has been a theme for the Boyball era, the Bulls were outgunned from 3-point range, with 7 fewer makes and 14 fewer attempts than the Hawks. But that stat alone somewhat diminishes what Atlanta was able to do all night carving up the Bulls defense. They also shot 60% on two-pointers and had 54 points in the paint. And that included a lot of putbacks as they had a huge offensive rebound rate of over 34%. If Alex Len had even moderate control over his motor functions this would’ve been an even bigger blowout.
It was an actual completed play by Len (he wound up having 14 points on 4-10 shooting, but I swear he was awful finishing) that put his Hawks up to a hilarious start of a 28-9 lead out of the gate. They hit 5 of their first 6 threes and were putting on a clinic with passes inside and out.
The Bulls made a run to end the first half, helped by some Atlanta turnovers and overall slop (the Hawks were just having fun out there, all night), and a Lauri Markkanen heave to end the first half actually had the Bulls within six though they had just given up 66 points.
To start the 3rd, Jim Boylen went with Bobby Portis over opening starter Robin Lopez. They gave up two layups, and Boylen called a timeout.
They kept giving up layups. And more threes.
Chicago's changed up their defensive strategy, going to a trap on Trae Young in ball screen actions, rather than switching and taking their chances with a small against John Collins.— Peachtree Hoops (@peachtreehoops) January 24, 2019
So far, Young's done a good job navigating those traps, but it's slowed things down for ATL.
Indeed, with the Bulls defensive strategy of switching nearly everything , John Collins was a total monster in the first half especially and finished with a career-high 35 points going an unconscionable 14-16 from the field.
Then Trae Young was kinda terrible...but also kinda brilliant? The diminutive rookie was scoreless for much of this contest but was racking up assists and commanding an extremely aggressive (to the point of dumb) Bulls defense to do his bidding.
Can I interest you in the world's finest ball movement? pic.twitter.com/yMeFEFNmGi— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 24, 2019
That was Young’s only make of the game, he was 1/12 from the field but had 12 assists and his team was +24 when he was on the court. He and a couple other Hawks could’ve had even more points if they hit when wide open, as the Bulls were totally befuddled defensively as soon as a single pass was made.
There was a mini-run here and there by the Bulls. Kris Dunn had some hawkish defense (still way too many pull-ups from midrange) and Wayne Selden* contributed in transition but the lead never got too uncomfortable for the Bulls.
*(Jabari Parker was in the locker room all game, it was reported afterwards that he suffered a patellar tendon strain during warmups)
But while the first half actually saw the Bulls trying to run with Atlanta, Boylen put the clamps down on his own team in predictable fashion.
Stats from Bulls-Hawks:— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 24, 2019
Bulls first half: 107 pace, 113 Offensive Rating, -9.0 net rating
Bulls second half: 96 pace, 85.4 Offensive Rating, -29.2 net rating.
It is maddening that this stuff has been happening for weeks.
By the end, as the lead swelled back over 18 in the final 6 minutes, the true embarrassments typical of the Paxson-appointed Boylen regime started to play out. Fans were chanting “we want Vince!” for a Vince Carter appearance (didn’t happen), and Bobby Portis got in some pointless jawing after his own team was the one being annoying in a dribble-out-the-clock situation.
For the Bulls, the ‘big’ ‘three’ actually all shot the ball well, with Markkanen and Lavine with 22 and 23 respectively and Dunn with 16. But they were digging out of a hole all game and didn’t come all that close.
And, fear not, though we didn’t get any insight from Boylen as to the cause of yet another debacle, maybe scheme or matchups...instead it was more Boylen-time hilarity:
Jim Boylen on #Bulls: "Our grit and toughness needs to be better."— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 24, 2019
So, uh, I guess look for that as the Bulls host the Clippers in two nights. Though I won’t be there (unless I get another freebie perhaps?).