clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A late defensive breakdown almost cost the Bulls in Orlando

the Boylen defense would’ve made for a different story if not for late Magic gaffes

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic by one point on Friday night. They should’ve lost.

No, this isn’t a Cowley-esque [he’s the only one left with this, right? -yfbb] message pushing the importance of losses, it’s one of execution.

Had it not been for an egregious foul by Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the final seconds which gifted Lauri Markkanen free points at the line, the story post-game would be focused entirely on a costly defensive breakdown by the Bulls.

Holding on to a two-point lead with only 8.7 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, one stop would ice the game in Chicago’s favour. Knowing a 2-point conversion wouldn’t lose them the game, the Bulls had to defend the Magic as if shooting a three was the call. That became even more obvious based on the personnel Magic coach Steve Clifford sent out to the floor.

With Gordon inbounding the ball, the four Magic players running Clifford’s set are all noted shooters — D.J. Augustin, Terence Ross and Nikola Vucevic are shooting 38 percent (or more) from three this season, and though having a down year from deep, Evan Fournier is a career 37.2 percent 3-point shooter. Put another way: one of these four were launching a three.

And Fournier did, stepping into an open three which never looked like missing.

Credit Clifford for designing a great look for Fournier, who curled through a series of well-timed Vucevic screens before firing up the shot. As good as the play call was, the Magic didn’t draw up an open look by themselves. No, they have the Bulls to thank for that.

How a player can be left so open in such a possession initially defies logic. On the slow motion replay, however, it becomes abundantly clear.

As Stacey King highlighted on the broadcast, Porter left far too much separation between himself and Fournier, allowing his opponent too easy a path to slip by. Though King is correct in identifying Porter’s initial mistake on this singular possession (his defensive ability has generally been overhyped), the larger issue was the lack of communication.

As the replay showed — and King noted too — Porter clearly calls for Markkanen to switch out high on the incoming screen. Oblivious to the call or unwilling to make the switch, Markkanen never leaves the side of his Vucevic, his direct cover, leaving enough distance for Fournier to break open.

Assigning fault for this defensive mistake is a matter of perspective. Markkanen not recognising the play and failing to react to the switch is concerning. It’s possible, though, that switching deep in the clock was something coach Jim Boylen instructed against, meaning this blunder is on Porter and his lack of initial defensive contact. Blaming one is difficult. And we don’t necessarily need to. Both are at fault, and all that matters is knowing the Bulls came perilously close to losing yet another game due to lack of basic fundamentals.

Of course, they didn’t lose. Choosing to isolate one defensive failure during a game the team wins may seem like an overreaction. Perhaps it is. But after all, is this not still a development season?

Regardless of the outcome, execution of scheme matters more than results at this point of the rebuild. Had Fournier missed an open three and the Bulls win the game on this possession, it’s a problem. Conversely, had making a difficult three over an out-stretched hand in his face won Orlando the game, so be it. At least the defense would’ve been present and in place.

Much has been said about the Bulls’ recent uptick in scoring — the team ranks third in offensive rating since Feb. 1 (seven games), behind only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Considering how disastrous the offense has functioned during Boylen’s first two months as coach, this recent spate of scoring outbursts has been a welcome reprieve from some truly terrible basketball. But where has the defense gone?

Through the same stretch of games, the Bulls are 26th in defensive rating. Increasing the sample size to Jan. 1 (22 games), Chicago tumble to 28th in defensive rating, only ahead of the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers, two historically awful defenses.

Not that the Bulls were a defensive juggernaut before. But as the offense has seemingly developed into a modern, entertaining product, it would be nice to see the defense coming along too. That hasn’t happened, so it’s worth repeating: this is a development season.

Defensive execution matters as much as offensive progression. Let’s at least start with communication on switches.