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Bullish: Thoughts on Game 4
Bullish is an attempt to parse the narrative of the Chicago Bulls season. In most seasons, it’s pretty obvious (recently the narrative centered on the health and ability of Derrick Rose), this season is much more complicated. I used to write about NBA for the New York Sun and The Root. I found then that distance was often an asset, so while I’d rather patrol the sideline and press box of the United Center, there’s insight to be had from the vantage point of my tiny Manhattan apartment too.
Confession: I didn’t see Game 3. I typically work until 9ish on Fridays and my intention was to punch out and rush to the closest television. When I saw that the Celtics had a formidable lead with only four minutes to go. I shrugged and changed to Plan B.
Anyway, going into this series, I wasn’t daunted by the most of the matchups, but one frightened me big time the coaches: Brad Stevens vs. Fred Hoiberg. Stevens is a master of X’s and O’s and Hoiberg simply isn’t. Stevens uses personnel with a concept. Hoiberg uses them with a guess.
The Bulls dominated Games 1 and 2 with their size, amassing formidable rebound advantages and owning the paint. Stevens first response in Game 2 was to contest this advantage with effort, but that left Bulls shooters open along the perimeter, and Chicago punished them with excellent three point shooting. So Stevens tried a different approach, Boston went small to start Game 3, inserting wing Gerald Green into the starting lineup. This forced Bulls bigs to chase along the perimeter, and Stevens changed the pick and roll set ups for his star guard Isaiah Thomas, forcing Bulls center Robin Lopez away from the rim. It worked like a charm in Game 3 and set up what I didn’t want: the Bulls fates depended on Hoiberg matching wits with Stevens.
The Bulls finished the third quarter of Game 4 with a lineup of Joffrey Lauvergne, Bobby Portis, Isaiah Canaan, Michael Carter-Williams and Jimmy Butler. Yep a quintet that has logged very few minutes together. Hoiberg has fiddled with his rotations all year and his inability to establish continuity any showed in that key moment of the season. The game was tied; then it wasn’t. The Celtics went on a 12-0 run to re-establish a comfortable lead, which they never reliinquished.
Much has been made of the absence of Rajon Rondo from the Bulls lineup, and yeah, he was a major factor in the team’s early wins in this series, but he wasn’t the only factor. The team’s inability to make adjustments now put them at a severe disadvantage for the rest of the series, and it further calls into question why Hoiberg has a job.