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Bulls beat Pacers by sticking to what they're good at...which we know isn't very good
RIP new offense, 9/2023-10/2023
Coming into Monday night’s game in Indiana, the Pacers looked like a young fast-paced three-point-flingin’ team that the old and slow Bulls defense would potentially struggle with. But instead they were the variable downside of such a team: they were a young fast-paced three-point-flingin’ team that couldn’t hit many threes (twelve of fourty-six, 26.1%), made many sloppy passes in transition (including a few botched lobs), and fouled way too much on their own defensive end.
And the Bulls took advantage enough to get the win, buoyed in particular by a 34-22 fourth quarter where they went 12-15 from the line where I believe only one of those trips to the line were of the intentional-to-get-the-ball-back-late variety. The Pacers had four team fouls at the 6:40 mark of that final period, and were in the penalty a minute later with a 2 point lead that they quickly lost and never got back.
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This was more a game that the Pacers gave away instead of the Bulls winning, though that should be the byproduct of the Team Continuity some nights. Both DeRozan and LaVine were smart and effective in taking turns going solo headhunting against smaller Pacers defenders.
The offense certainly wasn’t a byproduct of a different and more dynamic implementation: just 17 three pointers attempted for the Bulls, a mere 19 assists, and the leading shot-taker was Nikola “friggin’” Vucevic (tied with DeRozan). Vuc had 24 points, so a fairly efficient conversion rate on those shots, but still so many turnovers and wasted possessions trying to get him the ball.
I counted 5 of these types in the game. And, OK, that isn’t a ton, and a couple were just plain crappy passes. But it feels like even one of these is one too many when considering the possible benefit, especially as it’s in response to the Pacers defensive gameplan of switching small players on to Vuc. Vuc-ball is simply not the best option, so making the Bulls lean into it is sound strategy. That said, the results in this game were clearly in the Bulls favor: the Pacers were made to pay (barely).
Billy Donovan, usually a giver of hard truths, kinda fibbed in saying this was actually what he’s looking for:
Donovan said he saw improvements in what he wants to see stylistically from the Bulls’ offense---quick decisions, getting downhill and more paint attacks.
“I think we tried to play to that identity for the whole game,” Donovan said. “In the last six to eight minutes, you’re going to start really looking at matchups. But I thought we tried to move the ball.”
“I didn’t feel like the ball stuck. Even if there was a possession where there wasn’t a lot of passes, it was decisive. The minute we start holding the ball and start sizing guys up, the floor shrinks, everybody is in help and it’s really hard to play like that,” Donovan said. “You can have possessions like that but can’t maintain it.”
It’s understandable for the coach to lie here, and leave debbie-downering to the bloggers.
Vuc, benefactor of the “give the ball to Vuc” newsletter (published by Stacey King with contributions from every ex-player on the broadcast), of course doesn’t agree with me:
“My teammates did a really good job of trying to find me…We were more patient reading what they were doing defensively. We attacked certain matchups and attacked the paint. We didn’t shoot the ball extremely well but we stuck with it and kept attacking the paint. Now it’s: Are we going to do it consistently?”
I hope not!
Throughout this game I was instead getting more and more annoyed at how awful Vuc was defensively. And noticed the Bulls got back in the game in the 2nd half during the time he was out of the game. And then in the clutch Vuc got his points off of DeMar and LaVine having the ball, not anything through Vuc.
Again, the defense is the real scary thing so far this season, and Vuc is entrenched at the center of that figuratively and literally. His “no touching” style of defense actually paid off in this one as the Pacers fumbled repeatedly, and Vuc was able to stay in the game and punish the Pacers just enough. He had 4 offensive rebounds and 6 FTAs, unusually high marks for him.
Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway: it is not a sustainable formula for success.
As expected, the role playing starters did better here than in the first three games after (unsurprisingly) they were not removed from the starting lineup after three games. Williams and White, after their collective goose egg on Saturday, combined against Indiana for 16 points on 12 shots.
Coby took several shots to the face tonight and at one point was back the locker room before returning. Torrey Craig also went down after getting hit but stayed in the game. I don’t recall seeing Alex Caruso hitting someone with his face, but he probably did at some point.
Jevon Carter offered huge contributions in his first good game as a Bull, putting up points in these DDR/LaVine+bench lineups that are just dreadful. Carter went 5-7 from the field, though the Bulls rubbed off on him as he only had a single three-point attempt and he’s usually never shooting inside the arc.
Tracking data isn’t up as of writing time so I can’t say how many were considered ‘open’ or ‘wide open’, but worth noting that a vast majority of Pacers threes were above-the-break, going 7/35 there versus 5/11 from the corners.
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