The Chicago Bulls pulled out an ugly 90-85 victory over the similarly struggling Indiana Pacers on Monday night. They sealed the deal down the stretch with some big play from Nikola Mirotic and Dwyane Wade. Check out the rest of Pippen Ain’t Easy’s instant analysis below.
This was a rough one everybody.
The Bulls pulled out a win on Monday but still managed to be about as depressing as ever, setting a new low for points in a quarter but making up for it with an admittedly impressive display from Wade and Mirotic. A win is a win though, so let’s go through the game and see what we can learn.
It was the Wade and Butler show to start off, with the two Alphas scoring 13 of the Bulls’ first 19 points. The team was also taking to heart the struggles that they had in the paint against the Charlotte Hornets because 14 of their first 19 points came from the paint.
Jimmy Butler got aggressive early on in his matchup against fellow Eastern Conference superstar Paul George, especially with this one man fast break:
Rajon Rondo was also trying to make his presence on the boards known from the outset of the game. He had seven rebounds already through the end of the first quarter. The Pacers team had eight.
With 4:40 left in the first, we saw the first minutes from Michael Carter-Williams that we’ve seen since Halloween. He brought a defensive intensity that looked decidedly unfamiliar on the Bulls court, which crystallized most in this steal and save. Welcome back Mike.
Two pretty 3-pointers from Niko, a vicious block from Robin Lopez, and a completely avoidable delay of game penalty against the Bulls rounded out one of the best quarters we’ve seen in a few games. 28-19 Bulls.
Nikola Mirotic continued the boost in scoring that he’s been experiencing since his two games of riding the bench. He had 14 points through two quarters, only four points off of his season high. Niko’s scoring helped compensate for a lot of missed shots from Carter-Williams and Rondo who were a combined 1-for-8 with one half played.
Rondo still contributed despite his cold shooting. He added this slick pass to his eight first quarter rebounds:
Indiana Pacer Rodney Stuckey went out after straining his left hamstring. He wouldn’t return for the rest of the game.
As (almost) always, the Bulls won the rebounding battle 23-14, and here’s something to keep your eye on for future games: Taj attempted a corner 3 about halfway through the quarter, and it didn’t look all that strange (Sean Highkin didn’t think so at least). If he can even approach respectability, the whole offensive landscape would change for the Bulls.
Seven first half turnovers and eight first half fouls weren’t ideal for the Bulls, but the Pacers offense was seriously impotent, so the pressure wasn’t exactly high to put up big scoring numbers. Their 51 points were more than enough to give them a comfortable 10-point lead by the end of the half.
As usual, the Bulls were a little slow to start back up after halftime, making only one of their first seven field goal attempts.
This screenshot from BlogaBull contributor Tyler Pleiss might help illuminate why. The reason so many people spend so much time talking about spacing is because it kind of matters, and the Bulls don’t have it.
The Bulls had gone two whole quarters without descending into the ugliness that has typified their games as of late, so naturally they were overdue. Both teams combined for only 32 points the whole quarter, and the Bulls managed a measly 12, setting a new record for least points in a quarter this season. The previous record? 14 points from the Hornets game. Three nights ago.
I can’t think of a single play to include in this spot. Let’s just get to the fourth quarter fast.
Finally we had arrived at the main event: the worst 4th quarter team in the NBA against the third-worst fourth quarter team. The Bulls managed to stay in control starting out due to their rebounding. They had 47 total rebounds and 16 just on the offensive glass by the game’s end.
They also got the scoring a bit back under control after going on a 10-0 run early in the fourth. They seemed to have their head back on their shoulders until the Pacers responded with a 8-2 run of their own that took only 65 seconds. All of a sudden it was 79-74 with just under five minutes to go, thanks to this 3-pointer from Jerian Grant:
Both teams seemed to be trying hard to give the game away (shooting about 35 percent for the second half), and the Bulls went to a steady diet of Jimmy free throws and Dwyane step-backs, maintaining a two or four point lead until a missed three from Paul George led to the Dwyane Wade steal and dunk that would seal the game:
The Bulls also finally won a fourth quarter, for only the second time in 17 games. We were all the real winners though, because the game was finally over.
Bulls games are feeling more and more like work to get through, maybe even more so because of their hot start to the season. While it was entertaining to watch the late game heroics, it would be irresponsible not to also remember how the shots that the Bulls sank down the stretch were not well created shots, and they made mistake after mistake that surely would have sunk them against more competent teams.
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The Bulls need to focus on process, not outcomes. That’s where consistency lives.