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How Jim Boylen’s Bulls defense can allow a 160.9 offensive rating in a half to the Hornets

let’s dole out some blame

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations are in order for your Chicago Bulls. Scoring 100 or more points in 15 consecutive games for the first time since 1992 will surely get your juices all jacked up, right?

That, of course, is until you realise the Bulls have been outscored by nine points and have a 2-13 record through this hot shooting stretch.

Ultimately, offensive production means little without defensive stops. Sure, the Bulls may have scored 118 points against the Charlotte Hornets, but the Hornets - on a back-to-back - scoring 74 points and posting a 160.9 offensive rating in the second half is unfathomable, even against the typically-porous Bulls defense.

Hornets guard Kemba Walker proved to be the difference, scoring 25 of his game-high 37 points in the second half. While Walker undoubtedly found his rhythm over the final two quarters, he was aided by a Bulls defense which switched their bigs onto perimeter players far too often in a pivotal final period.

Down only two points with 6:47 left to play, the defensive errors started to mount for the Bulls. After a disaster offensive possession led to an easy Hornets rebound, Lauri Markkanen crossmatching onto Walker in transition would mark the beginning of the point guard’s dominant fourth quarter.

We shouldn’t expect Markkanen to stay in front of Walker as he accelerates toward the rim in transition. On the very next possession, this time in a halfcourt setting, it didn’t get much easier for the Bulls forward, who again was forced to guard Walker after Kris Dunn was caught on the initial screen. As he did before, Walker got to the rim with little resistance.

Getting in on the act, Hornets backup Malik Monk had no issue dribbling past a flat-footed Portis, who too was forced into switching onto a guard after Monk broke free from Wayne Selden. With no rim protection to deny his attempt, Monk drove into an uncontested layup.

Credit Hornets coach James Borrego for shifting to a smaller lineup in the fourth quarter. Doing so successfully forced Markkanen and Portis to follow their matchup out high to the perimeter as they screened for a guard, meaning the Bulls bigs had no choice but to defend their fair share of mismatches in pick-and-roll action.

So where was the counter by Jim Boylen?

It never came. He did, however, find time to take aim at Dunn for his individual failures in these situations:

“We did the show, the blitz and the switch,” coach Jim Boylen said of different defensive looks on Walker. “We’re trying to make those adjustments. He’s seen all that before too.”

Boylen said Dunn needs to do a better job of fighting over screens.

While Boylen has made it a habit in finding reasons to lay blame on his players rather than his own decisions, in this case he has a point. Had Dunn (and others) done a better job at fighting over the screen, a Bulls big wouldn’t have to switch onto a Hornets guards as frequently as they did.

Still, rather than accepting the status quo, the coach had to do something.

Opting to run with two traditional bigs (Markkanen, Portis) while the Hornets featured a frontcourt with no player taller than 6-foot-9 (Batum, Bridges, Williams), this decision by Boylen was just as much a reason for any defensive breakdown as it was a single players mistake.

Outmatched against a significantly more agile lineup, the Bulls have little chance of stopping the Hornets when it asked Portis and Markkanen to guard onto the perimeter and protect the paint.

Down eight with 4:59 remaining in the game, Portis tries doing exactly that, rotating over to help position. Doing so, however, unlocks a chain of Hornets passes that leads to an easy corner three.

Yes, the Bulls did a poor job of defending the initial screen. But if switching was part of the plan, as Boylen indicated, an adjustment of personnel — not just scheme — had to come.

In order to keep pace with Charlotte’s floor-spacing unit, one of Markkanen or Portis had to be off the floor late in the game. With both scoring 30 (or more) points, choosing who should sit isn’t so simple — as Portis only had five second-half points and is the weaker defender, sub him out for a wing.

Boylen shied away from such a choice, and so the Bulls continued to be cooked on basic pick-and-roll plays that forced their bigs to dance with Walker at the three-point line.

As is the case for most big men, both Markkanen and Portis are more comfortable dropping back toward the rim when guarding pick-and-roll. If both were to stay on the court against a smaller Hornets team focused on exploiting matchups, more had to be done to get the ball out of Walker’s hands — do a better job of denying the ball, or at least be more aggressive in blitzing the Charlotte All-Star as the first screen came to be set.

That didn’t happen. And how could it when Markkanen casually trailed Hornets forward Marvin Williams as he raced out to set a screen?

Dunn may not have done a good job in battling over screens, but little resistance from others ensured the Hornets were given the desired mismatch.

As good as the execution was down the stretch by the Hornets, it’s hard not to isolate fourth quarter possessions and feel like the Bulls did all they could to gift a win to their opponent.

That may please the pro-tank crowd. For those, however, who are more concerned about development, another loss because of poor decision-making isn’t progress.