The Chicago Bulls failed to win another game that seemed in their grasp last night, falling to Philadelphia 89-82 and putting them down 3-1 in the series. While it’s easy to place the blame for Chicago’s recent poor play on the loss of reigning MVP Derrick Rose and, for Game 4, Joakim Noah, there are other factors which have contributed to the Bulls’ losses.
One of those factors is Chicago’s poor execution on pick-and-roll defense.
In the first half of yesterday’s game, the Bulls had several key mistakes that led to easy buckets for the Sixers. Let’s take a look at how these breakdowns happened:
The ball starts in the hand of Evan Turner around the three point line. (He’s circled in this picture, but is a bit hard to see behind the defender.) Elton Brand comes up to set a screen.
Deng shades up on the screen and Turner backs up on him. Brand shifts his location slightly, setting a downscreen on Deng, which allows Turner to make a cut to the basket. Carlos Boozer, who’s guarding Brand (and is a poor defender overall), attempts to step up to prevent Turner from getting a clear path to the hoop.
But, instead of shuffling his feet to stay in front of Turner, Boozer makes a flailing swipe at the ball, as he is known to do. This allows Turner to blow by him and cut to the baseline. The Bulls obviously don’t want to allow an easy layup, so the rest of team shifts in to clog the lane.
Notice how all the Bulls players have their heads turned to look at Turner, so they have lost sight of the person they’re supposed to be guarding. This allows Turner to make a relatively easy pass along the baseline to Jrue Holiday. At the same time, Spencer Hawes cuts from the free throw line towards the basket.
Here’s the play in real time:
The play is easily prevented if Boozer is able to do his job and stop Turner from getting to the baseline. Instead, Turner goes right by him and the rest of the Sixers read the defense, leading to an easy bucket.
Another play later in the half shows similar results on poor pick-and-roll D. This play has even less to it, as the Bulls leave the Sixers wide open for an easy jumper.
The play begins essentially the same way. Lou Williams has the ball in the same location on the three point line, and Hawes comes out to set the screen on his defender, John Lucas III. This time, instead of backing the defender, Williams just follows a path along the three point line.
Omer Asik, a solid defender inside but completely out of his element on the perimeter, steps up to stop Williams.
Then, the Bulls suffer a complete mental breakdown, as both Lucas and Asik decide to stick with Williams as he comes off the screen. Hawes is able to roll to pretty much any spot on the right side of the floor, left completely unguarded. He decides to head towards the corner.
Hawes drills a three pointer right as the half came to a close. This one hurt for Bulls’ fans, as Hawes made only 3 shots from behind the arc all season. But, in reality, he had any shot up to 15 feet, as there was no Bulls defender anywhere near him when he received the pass from Williams.
In real time, it looked like this:
Easy buckets killed any hope the Bulls had in this one. In the second half, they changed their defensive scheme, choosing instead to go underneath screens instead of trying to fight through them. This change failed to yield any better results, as it left jump shooters like Holiday wide open for several shots, including two consecutive three’s in the fourth that sealed the game.
If the Bulls want any chance to come back in this series, they’re going to need to step up their defense. It seems like an odd thing to say, since they Bulls have been touted for their defensive prowess all season, but they’re going to need to work harder if they want to have a shot to win without Rose and Noah.
If they defend in Game 5 as they did yesterday, you can bet the series won’t even make it back to Philadelphia.