Bulls

Bulls postseason a stunning turn of events

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Bulls postseason a stunning turn of events

A week and a half ago, the No. 1 seeded Bulls were preparing for a long playoff run that would start with a mildly challenging series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, they're one game away from being eliminated from the postseason in the first round.

It started with the devastating injury to Derrick Rose who left Game 1 in the final minutes with a torn ACL. The emotional shock of losing their floor leader took its toll in Game 2 and the Bulls got blown out of their own gym.

You can give them that one. An understandable letdown. But the Bulls just haven't been able to bounce back.

Joakim Noah leaves Game 3 with a severely sprained ankle and is lost for Game 4. Suddenly, they look lost unable to execute down the stretch, losing two close games in the fourth quarter.

The past week has been a stunning turn of events. One I asked players afterwards if they could fully comprehend.

"I never thought we would be in this position," said John Lucas III. "It's amazing. It's been one thing after another, but we've been fighting all season long."

"No," answered Kyle Korver. "I never thought we'd be here, but here we are. So we have to find a way to win."

"We should have won the last two games," bemoaned Carlos Boozer, the only starter left who's 'doing his job' as coach Tom Thibodeau would say.

Boozer is right. The Bulls should have won the last two games. Philadelphia is not a good team. I mean no disrespect, but the Sixers are the 8th seed for a reason. Their shooting percentage hovers in the 30-35 percent range for the better part of these games. The Bulls outrebounded them in Game 3 and had more points in the paint. Statistically speaking, Philadelphia hasn't been that impressive in the last two games.

So why are the Bulls down 2 games in this series? Lack of a closer for the most part.

Jrue Holliday hit two big three-pointers in the last five minutes of Sunday's game and the Bulls just couldn't respond. CJ Watson, though he hit two key shots in the fourth quarter, missed five others. Luol Deng hit just one. Rip Hamilton, who was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Bulls in the playoffs only played 27 seconds in the final 12 minutes. Thibs went with Korver instead who ended up missing the two shots he took.

The team that seemed to have so much depth and 'more than enough to win' during the regular season, suddenly is lacking playmakers and shot-callers in the playoffs to finish close games.

You could say the injuries to Rose and Noah has forced other players to fill roles they're not accustomed to, but this isn't baseball. You're not asking an outfielder to pitch or a reliever to play shortstop. Guys should still be able to put the ball in the basket when their number is called. Isn't that how the cliche goes?

However, like baseball the Bulls need a closer and it's becoming painfully clear, no matter how much toughness they show the first 40 minutes of the game, if they blow the save, it doesn't matter.

After watching Game 4, I believe the Bulls won't go down without a fight. But, I also believe without clutch shooting, the Sixers will be punching their ticket to the next round.

A stunning turn of events, indeed.

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

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USA Today

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

Just over midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, Kris Dunn cleanly picked Derrick Rose’s pocket for a steal.

“I love getting steals. That’s been my game since high school. That’s what I do. I take pride in that,” Dunn said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I think my teammates know, the coaches know, the other teams know defense is what I do. And I try to inspire that in others.”

With 17 Pistons’ turnovers, the Bulls have now forced 15 or more turnovers in all 15 games this season.

The last time they did this — in 1980 — nobody on the current roster was born. Jim Boylen was in high school in Grand Rapids, Mich. No NBA team has opened a season in similar fashion since the 76ers did in 2004, per Elias Sports Bureau.

The Bulls lead the NBA in overall steals and rank second behind Friday’s opponent, the Heat, in steals per game. Dunn ranks third behind league leader Jimmy Butler, in town Friday, and Ben Simmons with 2.13 steals per game.

The Bulls also lead the NBA in forced turnovers per game at 18.8 and points off turnovers.

“I think our defense is built to force turnovers, the system that we run,” Dunn said. “We’re blitzing guys, trying to get the ball out of their hands. You have to make them make a read. Our defense is built so that after we blitz, we have a triangle (of defenders) behind. If they make a mistake in the read, it often leads to a turnover. We have a lot of good defenders on this team who can create turnovers.”

Shaq Harrison’s emergency starter status now that both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are on the shelf aids in this department. He led the NBA in steals-per-minute last season and posted three versus the Pistons. Hutchison is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Heat.

“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Harrison said of getting steals. “Every coach I’ve played for has been a defensive-minded coach and wants me to get into people. It’s been embedded into my mind to get steals and deflections and pick guys up to play hard 100 percent of the time.

“I think defense and that mentality is 90 percent toughness and heart and then 10 percent skill. Anybody can do it at this level if you truly put your mind to it.”

Despite their penchant for steals and forcing turnovers, the Bulls rank 14th in defensive rating. That’s middle-of-the-pack stuff, although it’s trending upward over the last five games. And it’s reflective of their poor defensive rebounding, occasionally poor defensive transition and inability to limit dribble penetration.

In detailing his defensive philosophy, coach Jim Boylen cited those three areas as need for improvement. That’s borne out in the Bulls allowing too many shots at the rim. What’s wild is they lead the league in offensive attempts within 5 feet but also allow the second-most in the league.

“We do not teach to steal the ball. I’m not a big out-of-position-to-steal-the-ball guy,” Boylen said. “What we have coached hard — and I guess well at times — is hand position, body position and doing your work early. I think that has put us in position sometimes to knock some balls loose or pick a couple off. But I’m not big on getting out of position to try to get a steal. It’s not who I am. It’s not who we want to be.”

Dunn said he sees “no downside” to the Bulls’ defensive’ scheme as long as it’s played with energy and communication. The Bulls have had trouble making quick and proper rotations if they don’t force a turnover, although that area too has improved over the last eight games.

The Bulls rank ninth in defensive rating over their last eight games.

“I give our guys credit,” Boylen said. “They’ve really bought into what our defense looks like now. Early, we struggled to get to the corner, to adjust and shift. I think there’s a familiarity now. There’s a learning curve in every defensive situation. I also think there’s defensive chemistry. And I think we can still grow.

“My assistant coaches have done a great job of sticking to what we believe in. We’ve coached basically the same thing since Day One. I feel we have a foundation. We need to be more consistent and play better. But we’re coaching to a system.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson react to the Bulls 109-89 win over the Pistons.

1:00 - Reaction to the win over Detroit

3:25 - Viewer comment on Bulls still having hope in the Eastern Conference

4:30 - Did Lauri Markkanen finally break out of his slump?

6:30 - Viewer comment on Zach LaVine and if he still fits

8:15 - Shaq Harrison balls out starting at SF

9:30 - Big Dave does Shaq highlites

11:50 - Viewer comment on James Harden or Luka Doncic?

13:30 - Viewer question on who has bigger hands- Will Perdue or Kendall Gill?

15:15 - Bulls honor Luol Deng and 2009 Bulls team

18:05 - Viewer comment on greater Bull- Joakim Noah or Deng?

21:00 - Viewer comment on Otto Porter Jr.’s return

23:30 - Reacting to Derrick Rose’s comments about load management

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

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