Before the Jazz became the latest winning team to run away and hide in the second half against the Bulls, before they stormed back from an 11-point deficit to post a 102-98 victory at the United Center, coach Quin Snyder offered some high praise for Jim Boylen’s defense.
“I think, from a tactical standpoint, it really fits their personnel and that's obviously what's gone into it,” Snyder said. “I'm assuming that, obviously, knowing Jim and the way he sees the game from a coaching standpoint. Molding style of play to fit your personnel is paramount and obviously they're successful doing it.
“It's a little bit of a contrast to the way some teams are playing right now, so I think that requires a real focus on our part to play against a defense that is more aggressive, that's more shifty, that's more focused on the ball. And they do it well.
“Their activity, that's where they get deflections and get their hands on balls. You have to make quick decisions and to a large degree you have to try to know what you're doing before you get the ball and really read whether you're passing, shooting, driving. Because if the ball stops, they get a chance to recover and they get their hands on passes. So that's where they get a lot of turnovers and deflections. You've gotta be quick-minded.”
The Bulls, who aggressively trap most pick-and-rolls, lead the NBA in forcing turnovers and scoring off those opponent miscues. And they only helped those departments Thursday by scoring 21 points off 17 Jazz turnovers.
But just like in Monday’s home loss to the Bucks, the Bulls’ defense got carved up in the second half by a smart, disciplined team that made the extra pass and picked it apart, possession by possession. The Jazz shot 58.8 percent in the second half.
And the Bulls are now 1-13 against teams with winning records.
“We’re scrambling and getting after it. We’re trusting in the system that Coach has put in and we’re executing to the best of our abilities. It gives us the opportunity to get some steals and get the ball back and get more possessions,” Thad Young said of the defense. “It is different. Sometimes we feel we’re in scramble mode the whole game. But one of the key aspects of the game is pick-and-roll coverage. We do a really good job with that. Teams are going away from it and going to different plays. So now we have to figure out how to guard different things.
“When you’re playing teams like Toronto and the Clippers and the Heat, good shooting teams, it’s definitely high-risk, high-reward. But we have a base set and we continue to believe in the system.”
Boylen pointed to how the Bulls’ top-five defense held the Jazz to six points under their season average and lamented not being able to score enough. Indeed, the Bulls’ offense has ranked in the bottom five all season and is certainly more the culprit to the team’s woes than the defense.
Still, there’s a feeling of inevitability that sets in when the Bulls are facing a good team. After taking that 11-point lead early in the third, the Bulls surrendered a 24-4 run.
“We had some looks at the end I thought we could make,” Boylen said. “Give them credit. I thought they made really tough, defended shots. I thought there was a moment where we missed a couple plays at the rim, hung our head and didn’t run back. They’re not a high transition team. So when they get transition buckets, it’s like found money for them.
“When we’re not scoring, we still gotta guard and run back and compete at a high level.”
To their credit, the Bulls rallied from their own 11-point deficit to tie the game on Zach LaVine's 3-pointer with 1 minute, 43 seconds left.
The Bulls then got the big stop they needed when Donovan Mitchell missed a 3-pointer with just over 30 seconds left. Trailing 100-98, Zach LaVine attacked two-time Defensive Player of Year Rudy Gobert right at the rim.
LaVine, who afterward said the left ankle he rolled was sore, missed.
“Tried to draw some contact,” LaVine said. “I thought I had him out of position. I hit him with the body. Did the best I could. Didn’t want to settle for a 3. Go in there and tie it up. It just didn’t happen. I didn’t convert a lot of those. I thought I was getting a lot of contact. But you gotta make plays.
“My number is called, I step up to bat. I’m not scared to take or miss shots. I feel I’ve closed out a lot of games this year. And there are some games I haven’t. It’s a make-or-miss league. There are some times where if you make the shot, nobody says anything. If you miss it, you look like a bad guy. You have to juggle that. I’m trying to do everything I can to win games. I just didn’t make enough plays and we didn’t as a group either.”
Boylen remains undeterred.
“We are laying the foundation and the building blocks,” Boylen said. “We’re in a new system with a new team with a new coach. I wanted to be a defensive team. We are. We need to improve our rebounding, our defending without fouling and offensively. Those are the things I’m going to work on.
“I like this group of men. They work and they care. They try to represent the city and play hard. I think they play really hard. And we’re going to keep working at it.”
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