The Chicago Bulls came into Brooklyn playing great basketball, having won nine out 10.
The team left looking to regain its form after a 96-80 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. It was a game that showed some problems that were simply the result of an off-night and some problems that the Bulls will need to fix moving forward.
In the short term, the Bulls essentially lost this game in the paint. Namely, Chicago’s inability to exploit mismatches inside proved too much to overcome.
Early on, it was clear the Bulls were trying to establish Carlos Boozer in the paint against Paul Pierce. Boozer had an awful start to the game with three turnovers in the first five minutes. His decision-making in the post was poor all game as he didn’t give the ball up early enough when double-teamed and hesitated against Pierce one-on-one.
Boozer’s inability to exploit what should have been a favorable matchup hurt the Bulls, because Brooklyn exploited its advantages on the other end. Whether it was the injured ankle, fatigue or a combination of both, Joakim Noah did not look like himself. Defensively, he had some trouble chasing Pierce around screens and did not recover as quickly as he normally does.
These are most likely one night issues, and it is reasonable to expect the Bulls to be better in the paint and Noah to return to being the defensive menace that he is.
It is offensively where Noah and the Bulls must adjust. All eyes were on Noah’s 14 assist game against the New York Knicks on Sunday. As his reputation as the best passing big in the game grows, teams will continue to play him to pass. Specifically, defenses will be conscious of the backdoor cuts and dribble handoffs the Bulls run with Noah.
Noah must respond to this by being more aggressive. He could have taken Mason Plumlee off the dribble more often as the Nets sent no help for fear he would find the open man. He could have used his great athleticism to get into the lane more often and should have taken more shots. There are nights when it makes sense that Noah only takes eight shots; this game was not one of them.
The other place the Bulls must adjust is with Noah’s handoffs. The Nets aggressively blitzed the shooter behind Noah when he handed it off, and the Bulls were not prepared for it. The Bulls might want to consider having Noah attack the lane more often on these plays. If teams continue to blitz the man receiving the handoff from Noah, two passes could get the ball to Noah open in the lane before the defense has a chance to recover.
Ultimately, Noah is one of the smartest players in the league, and Tom Thibodeau is excellent at making adjustments. The Bulls will do what is needed against adjusted defenses and will recover from this game. But for one night, it was an ugly game on both sides of the ball that sends the team back to the drawing board.