The Chicago Bulls barely escaped the Detroit Pistons Friday night with a 112-106 win. In what has become an early theme for this Bulls team, they were able to push their lead up to 16 at one point in the third quarter before squandering it, and at one time losing the lead in the fourth quarter.
In the end, a few tough 3-pointers from Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine paired with a few defensive stops down the stretch allowed Chicago to come away with the win.
That said, there was some good to take away from the Bulls win, but as always, quite a few things that still need to be improved.
Bulls’ offense looks like it did during the preseason
One of the early critiques, especially from myself, this season was the Bulls’ offense. The pace and ball movement that we had seen during their five preseason games wasn’t there anymore. That changed Friday night.
It was apparent right from the tip that those two things were the focus for Chicago. The Bulls wer able to find success early and often because they were able to get downhill, rather than moving east and west. There were DHOs (dribble hand-offs) on the wings for the guards, and we finally saw those single and double-drag screens from the preseason. These actions allowed Ottor Porter Jr., and more importantly Zach LaVine, to get north and south and to the rim rather than settling for long jumpers. And when that happens, the defense collapses and the ball starts getting pinged around resulting in really good looks at the basket. Chicago assisted on 29 of their 39 made field goals.
Even better was the fact that Chicago’s 3s finally started to fall, from LaVine (3 3PM) to Porter (3 3PM) to Lauri Markkanen (3 3PM) and Wendell Carter Jr (1 3PM). The Bulls shot 16-40 from 3-land (40%), way better than the lowly 29% they were averaging on the season.
This is when the Bulls’ offense is at their best. It’s my opinion that they could be even better once Jim Boylen can find more ways to get his two bigs more involved.
The Revival of Otto Porter Jr.
Much has been made of Porter’s play this season, with some questioning whether he was dealing with an injury we didn’t know about. Not sure if he ate some secret candy on Halloween, but Friday night saw the player we’ve been waiting for.
While he had a rough first few possessions of the game, Porter settled in and his scoring and playmaking started to show through. His start to the second half were his best minutes of this short season by far. Porter started off with an and-1 (missed free throw) off a drive to the basket, following it with another made layup and an alley-oop pass to Carter. He followed that with two additional triples, scoring 10 points in total in the third to help propel the Bulls’ lead to 16.
Otto finished with a season-high 22 points on 8-12 shooting and 3-4 from 3 with six rebounds, four assists and one steal. Now, can we get this Otto consistently?
Jim Boylen’s adjustments and game management
I’ll give Jim some credit when it’s due, but I’m going to continue to criticize him because he keeps doing dumb stuff.
The Good: As I said earlier, the Bulls’ offense looked much sharper than the previous games. We also saw some rotation adjustments with Markkanen and Carter being subbed out early in the first quarter for Young and Kornet. It was a step in the right direction, trying to pair the second unit with more scoring and defense.
The Bad: The early substitutions were good to see, but Boylen should be trying to stagger Markkenan and Carter, pairing the latter with LaVine and letting the former be more aggressive with the second unit.
Boylen’s adjustments and game management were extremely poor tonight. For starters, he should have been matching Carter’s minutes with Detroit’s Andre Drummond to limit his impact. Instead, with the early substitution of Luke Kornet for Carter, it left poor Luke to try to defend and keep Drummond off the boards. Decisions like that are something that should be done in scouting.
Then there’s the pick-and-roll coverage with Drummond. I get having your specific coverage, but it should be changed based on the opponent. Chicago continued to blitz the PnR against Detroit, which brought Carter out of the paint leaving Drummond to feast around the rim and on the boards (25 points and 24 rebounds) against the Bulls’ smaller defenders. Instead, they should’ve adjusted to a more conservative style of coverage to keep Carter in the paint.
In the third quarter, for whatever reason, Boylen went away from his earlier rotations and reverted back to what we’ve seen in previous games: the awful three-guard lineup with Young and Kornet. Chicago was up 12 with 4:30 left in the quarter before this lineup came in and subsequently lost the lead, before Markkanen had to check back in for Kornet. Why revert back to a lineup you know struggles to score and defend after success in the first half?
LaVine subbed out with 4:50 left in the third quarter and proceeded to sit for the next 12 minutes while the game became close. Not only that, but Boylen waited until under seven minutes in the fourth before putting the remaining starters back in with a two-point game.
Finally, in the final few minutes with the Bulls in the bonus, they settled for missing back-to-back 3s from LaVine and Porter instead of attacking the basket up three. That late-game lack of awareness we’ve seen every game so far can’t continue to happen, and that’s on Boylen and his assistants. One, you have to practice those situations to know how to handle them, but he has to better communicate time and situation with his guys while in the game.
At the end of the day, it is a win, and there some positives to take from it. But I don’t believe the Bulls get into the situation that happened late Friday night had Boylen and his assistants managed the game better.
The Bulls head to Indiana Sunday to take on the Pacers at 4 p.m. CST.